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High-Def Showdown Doesn't Slow Down

7 Jan, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The showdown between competing next-generation camps Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD at the Consumer Electronics Show this week didn't bring us any closer to the unified format everyone wants — and the industry needs.

Both sides trotted out their key supporters, with the HD-DVD side attempting to one-up the competition by announcing an impressive slate of titles scheduled to hit the market in the fourth quarter of this year. No harm done, sniffed one of the leading backers of Blu-ray. “It doesn't mean anything,” he told me afterward at the DEG: The Digital Home Entertainment cocktail party. “I could announce titles too.”

To modify a song title from Chicago, America needs you, Warren Lieberfarb. Last time around, when our industry was in a similar situation, it was Lieberfarb's hard-handed tactics that ultimately brought both competing sides to the table to hammer out a compromise that became DVD — a full year ahead of launch.

This time, we are nine months away and both sides are still going full throttle. Bob Chapek, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment and DEG, has loudly and repeatedly called for a single format to come to market — most recently, at the DEG event. But so far, neither side has shown any willingness to give in.

Indeed, all we've gotten is muscle-flexing and boasts. And if Fox weighs in on the Blu-ray camp, as is widely expected, then the six majors will be evenly split with their software support.

Someone like Warren Lieberfarb — heck, maybe even Warren Lieberfarb himself — needs to sit down with everyone involved and at least get the ball rolling on a compromise. We need to get everyone to agree that under no circumstances will two rival next-gen formats come to market, and then work backwards on achieving that goal.

Otherwise, there's little to no chance of success. My hunch is that if both formats come to market, consumers will ignore both and stick with their tried-and-true DVD.

A similar thing just happened on the music side, where SACD and DVD-Audio are still slugging it out in the ring of public apathy.

Come on, guys. Will somebody please step up?

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