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High-Def Showdown at Lucky 7: Two Sides Face Off and a Voice of Reason Emerges

11 Jun, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The sparks sure were flying during the Next-Generation Super Session at our Third Annual Home Entertainment Summit earlier this week. Warren Lieberfarb, the feisty ex-president of Warner Home Video and “father” of DVD, came out in support of HD-DVD, a high-definition optical-disc format favored by Toshiba and NEC. Benjamin Feingold, president of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, spoke for the Blu-ray Disc Group, a high-def format developed by Sony, his division's parent.

Both formats use a blue laser rather than a red one for a superior picture. HD-DVD costs less to make, because the manufacturing process is essentially similar to existing DVD, which means replicators won't have to undergo costly makeovers. But the capacity is a little less than Blu-ray, which advocates of the Sony camp say is shortsighted in an era where everything needs to be supersized.

Just before the session began, Lieberfarb marched up to Feingold in the lobby of the Wyndham Bel Age, where the summit was held. Extending his hand, he said, “Don't take it personally, what I'm going to say.” Feingold shot up from his seat and told Lieberfarb the same thing.

During the session, Lieberfarb blasted Blu-ray, which hasn't yet published its specifications, “vaporware,” and predicted HD-DVD would ultimately triumph “because it's right.”

Feingold and his allies, when it was their turn to speak, maintained HD-DVD is inadequate for an increasingly interactive future and twisted Lieberfarb's “right comment” to state, “HD-DVD is right now. Blu-ray is the future.”

The nine studio presidents who took the stage right after the Super Session were clearly a bit shell-shocked. Each one said he's still on the fence when it comes to choosing sides, but all agreed that a compromise had better be reached, and soon, before the actual product came to market.

But it was Disney's video chief, Bob Chapek, who spoke most passionately and eloquently, during his luncheon keynote address. Chapek warned that both sides rushing to market would only result in a fatal train wreck, which he aptly demonstrated via an animated Power Point presentation that showed two trains on a collision course.

He urged restraint and caution on both sides, and was loudly applauded. Scanning the faces in the crowd, you could almost sense the fear and apprehension of an industry that created a good thing — DVD — but now stands in danger of blowing it.

I'm as hyped on the concept of a high-definition optical disc as anyone. I believe there's a need for it, and it should come to market sooner rather than later, certainly before the networks begin broadcasting in high definition and the evening news looks crisper and cleaner than your DVD.

But there's got to be one, and only one, standard. Someone asked me, if there's a showdown, who do I hope wins.

My answer: “Bob Chapek.”

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