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Consumers Victims in Format War

1 Apr, 2007 By: Stephanie Prange

At a local grocery store the other day, I heard a couple of guys talking about one getting a new HDTV. During the conversation, one said he couldn't decide between the two HD movie formats and which was going to win and was therefore postponing any buys.

It certainly is a distressing fact for anyone involved in the packaged media business, including retailers and studios, that buyers don't feel any comfort in buying the next generation of movie discs.

Some have brought up the fact that studios such as Warner Home Video, which supports both formats, have the advantage of selling to all HD customers, both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD player owners. But the fact of the matter is, were there only one format, even Warner would sell more discs because HD consumers sitting on the sidelines, such as my fellow grocery store customer, would not wait to buy.

I've sat through many a press conference and read many a story trying to come to grips with — and even extol as an acceptable outcome — the fact that we will have a two-format HD disc market. Warner, in fact, plans to launch a disc with Blu-ray on one side and HD DVD on the other.

Does everyone have amnesia?

I seem to remember retailers begging the studios to settle on one format. I seem to remember that DVD only took off in earnest after a format compromise and the dwindling of Divx, the ill-conceived pay-per-play disc in competition with the DVD.

A Microsoft representative recently told Game Informer the company wouldn't put HD DVD in its next Xbox 360 version, which includes a much bigger hard drive to store downloaded content, because the format was “not proven.” Always a lukewarm supporter of packaged media, including DVD, Microsoft seems to be almost hoping the HD disc format war continues, so that it can expand digital distribution through its Xbox 360 Video Marketplace.

Unfortunately, I'm not so sure consumers, like my friend at the grocery store, are on the same page as Microsoft. I think they'd prefer the HD disc format war were over.

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