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High Definition's Long and Winding Road

12 Aug, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

The road to market introduction of next-generation high-definition discs took some unexpected turns this week with the revelation that software and hardware support for HD DVD's fourth-quarter launch was softening dramatically.

Naturally, this is going to engender a lot of speculation over what this means for the future of HD DVD, which was counting on an early-to-market introduction as a key advantage in a format battle that appeared all but inevitable.

Warner Home Video chief Jim Cardwell noted that WHV was considering rolling back its launch of HD DVD titles until first-quarter 2006 in hopes of a compromise between the camps. Paramount Home Entertainment also is pulling back its launch of HD DVD titles for the quarter, said Thomas Lesinski, president of worldwide home entertainment, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment is reportedly scaling back on its planned releases. Meanwhile, Toshiba reportedly will be the sole CE manufacturer with a HD DVD player on the market by Christmas.

The big question of whether or not the competing formats would find a compromise seemed to have been answered in fairly straightforward recent statements by both sides that indicated, after numerous and fitful negotiations, there was little possibility of that happening. We haven't seen reports from Japan — where these negotiations had been taking place — of renewed discussions between the two camps, but certainly that doesn't mean they may not be taking place.

Whether a compromise has a new life in light of these and other recent developments (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment moving to Blu-ray, for example), it seems clear we won't see a major market push by a high-def disc format this year, and should Blu-ray keep to its timetable, likely won't see one until the middle of 2006.

The public certainly seems willing to wait. A recent report by JupiterResearch shows lukewarm interest by consumers in adopting high definition in the next 12 months. Certainly, there's still time for the home entertainment industry to work out a route to a single-format high-definition launch, no matter how circuitous that road may be.

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