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Another Victory for Blu-ray Camp

20 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The scale continues to tip in Blu-ray Disc's favor.

Warner Home Video has officially joined the Blu-ray Disc Association, becoming the fifth of the six major studios to back the Sony-developed next-generation optical disc format.

The Blu-ray Disc Association's board Wednesday night formally approved Warner's admission, sources report.

A statement of software support, in which Warner will formally announce its intent to release movies and other content on the high-definition disc format, is expected sometime today.

Like Paramount Home Entertainment, however, Warner has yet to repudiate the competing HD DVD format, developed by Toshiba, its partner in standard DVD.

That somewhat dampens the enthusiasm of the Blu-ray camp, said Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Hollywood's de facto spokesman for Blu-ray Disc.

“The strategy that any supplier would release on both Blu-ray and HD DVD is highly dubious,” Feingold said. “It will only lead to market confusion and consumer disappointment.”

Of the six majors, only Universal Studios Home Entertainment has not come out in support of Blu-ray, sticking with its original statement of releasing software only on the HD DVD format. A high-ranking Universal executive said it's “too expensive” to release on both formats, while sources say Universal is sticking with HD DVD because of the cozy relationship between Toshiba and its corporate parent, General Electric.

Last month, Toshiba announced a strategic alliance with Universal Pictures for a promotional campaign around King Kong, which opens theatrically Dec. 14. Toshiba will use the film to promote its branded audio-visual products around the world, primarily in the United States and Japan.

The Warner move is the latest in a series of victories that have pushed the next-gen needle firmly into Blu-ray territory. A Toshiba spokesman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded the HD DVD camp's only hope at this point would be for the coalition of consumer electronics firms backing Blu-ray to fall apart prior to launch.

Such a scenario could happen, he predicts, if Sony releases its PlayStation 3 in April at a likely list price of $499, about half the expected out-of-the-gate price of dedicated first-generation Blu-ray Disc playback decks from other manufacturers.

“What consumer would buy a playback-only deck for $1,000 when they can buy a machine that plays back movies and also lets them play games for half that amount?” he asks. “Other manufacturers are going to balk at producing playback-only decks, and their only other option is to make high-end combo decks with recording capabilities — which is a market already taken care of by cable and satellite with built-in decoders.”

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