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Feingold: Blu-ray to 'Overwhelm

6 Sep, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

In the wake of Toshiba postponing its long-planned fourth-quarter launch of HD DVD into 2006, one of the key studio backers of the rival Blu-ray Disc camp predicts the fight for a unified next-generation optical-disc format will end with all studios supporting his side, calling it “the only logical conclusion.”

“I think in 12 months it's all going to be clear: the combination of Blu-ray and PlayStation 3 machines is going to overwhelm any HD DVD presence and all studios will have to support Blu-ray,” said Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Blu-ray technology, with its greater bandwith, will be the basis of Sony's revamped PlayStation 3 console, scheduled to launch in April—which industry sources say is a key reason unification talks between the two next-gen camps have been futile. Sony is the key architect behind Blu-ray, while Toshiba developed HD DVD.

Feingold broke a lengthy period of polite silence in Hollywood among presidents of the six major studios' home entertainment divisions, who are evenly split between the two sides.

Sony, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment support Blu-ray, while Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video have signed on with HD DVD.

Feingold was motivated to speak out after word broke late last week that Toshiba would hold off on releasing HD DVD players until sometime next year. The Japanese consumer electronics giant, in turn, decided to postpone its launch after the three supporting studios scaled back previously grandiose fourth-quarter software release plans to focus on the existing DVD business, which is maturing.

In a statement issued to Japanese news outlets, Toshiba said its executives are speaking with studios and key retailers “to seek the most effective timing of the launch.” The statement noted the majority of consumer electronics companies that have agreed to make HD DVD players “prefer a large-scale launch, rather than a gradual launch.”

Toshiba spokesman Mark Knox, an advisor to the company's HD DVD Promotion Division, confirmed the delay. He noted that Toshiba will begin rolling out HD DVD players in Japan in the fourth quarter, and expects to have plenty of software support from Japanese suppliers, including a significant selection of anime titles.

As recently as the end of June, when most of the major-studio video presidents sat on a panel at the annual Home Entertainment Summit in Century City, no ill words were exchanged about either format. Even when word broke earlier this month that the HD DVD-supporting studios were reconsidering their fourth-quarter software launch, Blu-ray backers didn't pounce and proclaim victory.

Feingold, however, believes that with the Toshiba announcement the writing's on the wall.

“There's going to be a big bang when PS 3 launches,” Feingold said. “The convergence aspect is the killer application. If HD DVD does launch it will be a small format, and the real question is do studios want to build an infrastructure to support that and at the same time risk confusing consumers?

“It's clear to me that a year from now everyone will be putting out Blu-ray, whether they've announced or not, because once there are a few million playback devices it's a revenue stream they cannot and will not ignore.”

Additional reporting by Erik Gruenwedel.

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