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HD DVD Backers Should Call It a Day

28 Jan, 2008 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Is the future of Hollywood in the grasp of two computer companies? Sadly, it is so. If this format war continues much longer, we could be in for a repeat of what happened in the music industry. We saw two next-generation formats, Super CD and DVD-Audio, battle it out, and in the end neither won — leaving the tired, old CD to fend for itself in an increasingly electronic environment.

Toshiba and Microsoft, by stubbornly continuing to back HD DVD at a point where it is clear the format cannot win, are threatening to derail the entire home entertainment packaged-media business — Hollywood's primary cash cow, and as such, a vital bloodline to the creation of new movies.

Toshiba may prolong the fight with Blu-ray Disc by slashing player prices and aggressively courting DVD owners by promising them the new HD DVD machines will make their existing libraries look better, but to what end? As one of the developers of DVD, Toshiba does have a vested interest in keeping the format around as long as it can — and if HD DVD, which Toshiba also developed, has no way of winning the format war, then Toshiba's alternate approach very well may be to keep the format alive as a spoiler, as a buffer to widespread acceptance of Blu-ray Disc, developed by archrival Sony.

But what Toshiba can't do is reverse the decline in consumer spending on DVD. Only a new format can do that, one that takes full advantage of HD technology. Sure, HD DVD fits the bill, but it's not going to prevail — that much is clear to pretty much everyone at this point. So Toshiba needs to swallow its pride and do the right thing for our industry — and, in the long term if not the short term, its own corporate shareholders.

The same goes for Microsoft, which at least has opened the door to Blu-ray in a series of cryptic statements issued just after Warner made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it would exclusively support Blu-ray Disc. If Microsoft goes Blu — or at least issues a Blu-ray add-on for its Xbox 360, as it has for HD DVD — then Toshiba will likely cave as well.

Hopefully one or both companies will see the light before it gets dark for all of us.

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