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HD Backers Trade Research Jabs

15 Jul, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The ongoing next-generation disc format battle between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD has moved from the boardroom to the opinion poll.

The Blu-ray Disc Association and Warner Home Video this week released separate third-party surveys — conducted in May — that not surprisingly produced results endorsing their respective formats.

The Blu-ray survey found that 58 percent of 1,200 respondents (one-third of which had HDTV) preferred Blu-ray, compared to 16 percent for HD DVD. About 26 percent were undecided.

The Warner survey of more than 3,000 respondents, separated into equal groups of HDTV owners, non-owners and those who intended to purchase in the next 12 months, found that 51 percent, versus 24 percent, of respondents favored HD DVD when told a competing format would be launched six months later. About 25 percent remained undecided. Respondents introduced to Blu-ray first and told there was another format already available opted for HD DVD, 49 percent compared to 25 percent. About 26 percent remained undecided.

Regardless of the format, upwards of 58 percent of respondents rated Blu-ray and HD DVD either “very unique” or “extremely unique” in the Warner survey.

“High-definition DVD players, discs — including hybrid — regardless of format, were viewed highly, which is a good thing for the market overall,” said Steve Nickerson, SVP market management, Warner Home Video.

The high-definition picture “got a very visceral response” from focus groups, said Andy Parsons, SVP at Blu-ray supporter Pioneer Electronics.

Name dropping
The Blu-ray survey found 82 percent of respondents favored the format's strong support from the consumer electronics industry, including Sony, Panasonic, Hewlett-Packard, Pioneer, Dell and Apple. A smaller group — Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo and Thomson — back the HD DVD format.

Mark Knox, adviser to the HD DVD promotions division, didn't dispute Sony's clout with consumers but said many of the CE companies aligned with Blu-ray are not exclusive to the format and likely have secondary relationships with Sony they don't want to jeopardize.

“If you look at who's got more logos on their PowerPoint presentation, Sony definitely wins,” Knox said. “But I don't believe the reason for that is because that format is inherently superior.”

Warner's Nickerson said the combination of high definition (HD) and DVD represent two concepts many consumers are familiar with and believe in.

“The Blu-ray research makes a big deal about the power of the CE brands associated with the format,” Nickerson said. “But our research shows that the brand of HD and DVD is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, than any single company brand.”

Blu-ray proponents, though, point to rock-solid support from Sony's next-gen platform PlayStation 3, scheduled to come out in the spring.

Backwards compatibility
Respondents in both surveys showed strong support for the concept of a DVD–HD hybrid disc.

“It tells us that consumers like the concept of being able to buy a disc that they can play today (without an HD DVD player) and is future-proof,” Nickerson said.

In the Blu-ray-backed survey, consumers ranked backwards DVD compatibility the No. 1 concern in adopting a high-definition disc.

The HD DVD hybrid disc features a conventional DVD on one side and an HD DVD on the flipside. Blu-ray is floating a single-sided hybrid disc concept that would not require the consumer to flip the disc. Blu-ray supporters touted the same-side hybrid as an advantage, but Nickerson downplayed the flipping problem.

Format war
Both surveys show consumers are wary of a format war on content.

Blu-ray's survey found Blu-ray won 20 percent support, to HD DVD's 13 percent support, with its studio backing — Disney, Miramax, Touchstone, Twentieth Century Fox (as listed in the survey), MGM, ESPN and Sony. HD DVD has backing from Paramount, Universal, Warner, HBO and New Line.

However, more than two-thirds of respondents — 67 percent — declared themselves split between the two formats, based on the divided studio support.

Warner's survey found that 45 percent of respondents would not purchase either high-def format player if support were split, vs. only 23 percent if there were agreement on a format.

“[I] don't want to invest in the next Betamax,” one respondent said.

Warner's Nickerson agreed a format war would be counterproductive to the DVD industry.

“HDTV is going to more and more homes, and [those consumers] will be looking for sources of programming,” Nickerson said. “If they can't find it in packaged media, they will go get it someplace else.”

Blu-ray backer Parsons said his group pulled out all the stops to avert a format war. “We really tried our best not to have this happen,” Pioneer's Parsons said. “I'm upset. We all are.”

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