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High-Def Format War Isn't So Bad

23 Apr, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The format war between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD has been vilified by both camps and crucified in the press. Critics, me included, have blamed the format war for confusing consumers and hampering the mass adoption of a next-generation, high-definition format simply because there's no single standard, as there was when DVD came on the market 10 years ago this spring.

I'm about to sing a different tune: I'm beginning to think the format war isn't all bad.

I'm not saying the format war should go on indefinitely; I refuse to buy into the logic that two movie-viewing formats can coexist forever.

I am saying that in this stage in the life cycle of high-definition packaged media, there's a positive aspect to having two rival formats vying to become the standard, for two reasons:

1. It keeps Sony honest. If only Blu-ray had come to market, do you think player prices would have dropped as quickly as they have? Some could argue that Toshiba's lowball pricing of its entry-level HD DVD player, now listing for $399, prompted Blu-ray manufacturers, Sony included, to cave in and slash prices on Blu-ray players. As one studio executive who supports both formats told me, “If it wasn't for Toshiba, Blu-ray players would still be $1,000 and up, and we'd be looking at a laserdisc technology rather than something for the mass market.”

2. It increases consumer awareness of high-def discs. The Blu-ray Disc Association has been pathetically remiss in hyping its new format. Blame it on the fact that there are so many CE manufacturers in the association that it's impossible to get anything done. The scrappy North American HD DVD Promotional Group, on the other hand, has been pumping up “The Look and Sound of Perfect” all over the place, undoubtedly spurring Blu-ray studios to take promotional matters into their own hands.

Granted, having two rival formats slug it out in the market confuses consumers and keeps many of them from buying either format until the dust is settled. But it also can be argued that if there was just one format in the market, it would be stymied by overpriced hardware and a bumbling promotional campaign. Which is the lesser of two evils? Hard to say.

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