It’s Sooner Rather Than Later in the High-Def DVD Format War

Who would have thought that one film studio would cause the billion dollar home video market to change almost overnight? Of course, the only studio that could would be Warner Bros. since it owns a 20% share in DVD and VHS shares. It stood the most to gain and lose from the format war.

Matt Paprocki pretty much summed this event up, and the only thing I might change is the title from “Possible HD DVD Death Looming” to “Probable.” Everyone is saying it.

Almost everyone wins with a single format. Of course, Toshiba is the biggest loser since it manufactures HD DVD, but it was either them or Sony.

Here are a few things worth noting:

  • Matt correctly points out that the Playstation 3 has served as the white rabbit for the Blu-ray camp, something that this writer believed Sony had the wrong focus on. Sure, Sony appears to have won the high-def DVD war, but its victory seems to be at the PS3’s expense (but that’s another issue). The Playstation 3 has been a huge boost to the number of Blu-ray player households, and the HD-DVD didn’t get the boost it wanted from the Xbox 360, which only supported HD DVD via an additional add-on (i.e. no native playback capability).
  • Blu-ray was surprisingly aggressive in its pricing promotions during the holiday season (e.g. 2-for-1 deals). All HD DVD could muster was free movies via mail-in rebate if you bought a new player. One of the reasons to buy HD DVDs were that they were supposedly cheaper to buy than Blu-ray discs.
  • Blu-ray was also more aggressive in releasing more high-profile movies (i.e. fanboy flicks) than HD DVD was (Transformers aside). Video game console makers can tell you that blockbuster titles sell hardware.
  • HD DVD hardware was cheaper than Blu-ray hardware, which made it less appealing for retailers to stock. Well, except for Wal-Mart, of course.
  • THe porn industry has been sort of a non-factor in the war, with studios releasing movies on both formats.

The funny thing is that both formats still haven’t been able to deliver the features promised that would make either more attractive than regular DVD. Now that consumers can confidently buy Blu-ray players without the fear of investing in a dead format (sorry, HD DVD owners), they can now enjoy the headaches that early Blu-ray adopters experienced.

The whole format war was absurd from the beginning. Now, a host of reasons can be cited from WB jumping ship. DVD sales declined in 2007 from 2006, but that was predicted. Sure, consumer confusion could be blamed. You could take a stab at piracy and video games as well. But don’t forget about inflation, gas and oil prices (it finally hit $100/barrel), the banking and mortgage crises, and the general bleak global financial and political outlook.

In the end, a single high-def DVD format is a really good thing. But WB shouldn’t be praised for choosing a single side a few years too late. Everyone was greedy and everyone should be blamed for the war. The lone studio holdouts Paramount and Universal will probably switch sides soon and the war can officially be declared over.

It sucks because now I lost my bet and I owe my friend a Blu-ray player.

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