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Digital Hollywood Confab Speakers Say High-Def Inevitable

11 Jun, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

SANTA MONICA — The panelists at the high-definition discussion June 11 at the annual Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica, Calif., agreed on one thing: the success of HD home media, if it isn't considered a success already, is inevitable.

What form of HD entertainment will come out on top, however, was a source of debate.

If Microsoft has its way, DVD, Blu-Ray Disc and HD DVD will all be rendered obsolete within 10 years, according to Richard Doherty, Microsoft's program manager for Media Entertainment Convergence.

“I don't know that [HD] will be delivered on an optical disc in five to 10 years,” he said, pointing to downloads and broadband delivery. “At Microsoft, we'd rather it wasn't [on a disc].”

He added that Microsoft is “very firmly planted in HD DVD” at the moment, due to the cost of replication and because “Blu-Ray hasn't delivered that interactive content [like HD DVD] has.”

Doherty acknowledged his bias: Microsoft's Xbox 360 — which is HD DVD compatible — is competing with the Blu-Ray based PlayStation 3 from Sony. A scheduled moderator for the panel from Sony was unable to appear. But Doherty was adamant that “this will be the last optical [home entertainment] generation. If this one survives.”

Brett Gaines, VP of strategic business development for Silicon Image Inc., a leader in HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) technology, pointed out that studios count on a majority of their revenue from DVD and its HD brothers.

“Over time it's inevitable: delivery of content will be by the Internet and broadband. It's just the cheapest way to get content into the home,” he said. “[But] before you move off optical media, you'll need to tell the studios where [they'll make up the money].”

“The economics here are not simple,” agreed Jack Buser, Dolby's “WorldWide Technology Evangelist.”

“Dolby's extremely neutral in the format war,” Buser added. “But we also really, really don't like the format war. A lot of consumers right now are turned off by the format war. They've been burned before and they don't want to be burned again.”

Besides wading into the middle of the ongoing format war, the panelists covered a variety of HD-related topics. Dolby's Buser started the panel by asking how many of the 20-25 people in attendance owned an HD DVD player, with half raising their hands. Most of the other half raised their hands when he asked about Blu-Ray.

But everyone raised his or her hands when he asked who had a 5.1 sound system set up at home.“It's pretty shocking to look at the number of 5.1 set-ups,” Buser said. “Sound is such a critical aspect of the high-def experience. It's more than just a pretty picture.“As devices move into the living room, they all speak to those 5.1 audio setups you have.”

He touted the quality of Dolby's True HD audio, which purports to deliver the same quality sound that came from a film's mixing department.

“It's amazing to me how much the studios have embraced Dolby True HD,” Buser said.

Silicon Image's Gaines ran through the progress HD has made in all electronics over just a couple years. He said 91% of all TVs are HDMI compatible, as are 47% of DVD products.

“A TV that comes with only two HDMI inputs will not be competitive in the future market,” Gaines said.

However, a mere 6% of mobile devices are HD-ready, he said.

“The mobile opportunities are huge,” he said.

The panelists agreed mostly on what consumers expect from all sides of HD, hardware and software.

“At its baseline, people are trying to recreate the theatrical experience at home,” Microsoft's Doherty said, adding that on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace download service, users are downloading HD programs four times as often as regular ones. “That's the consumers' ultimate goal.”

Gaines predicted that the HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray battle will be won based on the number of available titles.

“The video and audio experience is a given, [but] right now it's a little bit tough to get what you want [on HD],” Gaines said. “It's not all on HD DVD and Blu-Ray. We need more sources of HD programming.

“The ultimate determining factor is the availability of software.”

“Consumers really do have a holistic expectation of HD,” Buser said. “Moving forward we can't ignore consumers, demand for portability, compatibility and interactivity.”

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