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If They Build It, Will They Come?

17 Mar, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

How can you launch a format without content?

It now appears that's precisely what Toshiba is doing with HD DVD, one of two rival optical-disc formats vying to succeed DVD in an increasingly high-definition universe.

Toshiba's first two players are arriving in stores the last week in March. At least one of the three studios supporting the format was supposed to have an ample supply of software in stores at the same time.

But for technical reasons Warner Home Video is now in the same camp as Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment: “Yeah, we're going to release HD DVD product. We just don't know precisely when.”

Warner has since announced they will release three titles April 18.

That means the early adopter who will race to Best Buy to buy one of the two Toshiba players — oh, sorry, Best Buy's only carrying one model — will find nothing to play on it for at least three weeks.

As the saying goes, is that any way to run a railroad? Toshiba's decision to forge ahead with HD DVD despite overwhelming consumer electronics and Hollywood studio support for Blu-ray Disc, the rival format developed by Sony, seems to be guided by the “if we build it, they will come” mindset.

The problem is, regardless of how many little red containers were on display at this past January's Consumer Electronics Show, regardless of how many studios promised grand software plans this year (as they did in 2005), until I can actually get an HD DVD disc in my hands, there is absolutely no incentive to even consider buying a player. And not just one disc — there needs to be a broad, and plentiful, supply of software on hand, at launch, for this format to even have a chance at success.

I can understand Toshiba's haste. Technologically speaking, Blu-ray Disc is the better format. Blu-ray also has five of the six major studios behind it, and the backing of most consumer electronics manufacturers. Factor in the PlayStation 3 component and the battle is clearly over for Toshiba unless the company manages to somehow gain the upper hand before Blu-ray comes on the market.

Toshiba's strategy appears to be coming to market first. But if you're not ready, and your partners aren't ready, why bother?

Once you leave a bad taste in the public's mouth, it's unlikely that taste will ever go away. And if you persist in coming to market with players when there's no software that can play on it, you're either desperate or doomed — most likely both.

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