Is The Format War Over?

If you claim your disc format the winner of the format war, does it become true? High-Def Digest reports that Sony is seizing the marketing initiative with respect to the Neilsen Videoscan ratings and other indicators that showed Blu-ray as releasing and selling twice as many titles in January as HD DVD and will now market Blu-ray as the clear winner of the format war.

Sony exec David Bishop was quoted in Video Business as saying that for consumers, "now it is safe to make a choice... No more fence sitting is needed... We have a critical mass of content, we have the biggest mass of consumer electronics companies in the world supporting this format."

While time will certainly tell if this proclamation is mere marketing hubris, there's no question that Blu-ray is once again the format to beat with more studio and hardware support. Blu-ray leaped into '07 with big announcements from its exclusive supporting studios Disney, Fox, Lion's Gate, MGM and Sony. And of course, there are vast and growing numbers of PlayStation3 consoles growing the hardware install base.

Countering BD's exclusive studios on the HD DVD side is Universal, which made a strong announcement that it would release over 100 HD DVD titles on 2007. HD DVD's other supporting studios, Warner and Paramount, are mostly Switzerland, focusing on issuing their new releases on both formats. We'll see if Universal by itself can counter the output of BD's five exclusive studios enough to keep the race close. And even then that's in regard to the sheer number of titles released, not an indication of whether Universal's catalog can outsell the format that has Pixar and Pirates on its side.

And indeed, while HD DVD's supporters might point to Blu-ray's big January merely as a reflection of Blu-ray's releasing more titles, that's the point entirely. Blu-ray has more studios and it wouldn't be surprising if more titles are released on BD (and therefore sold) in perpetuity. If January's ratios of 2:1 are maintained or even extended throughout this year, will HD DVD still be a viable format? While some have prognosticated that this format war might last years, at least in terms of two formats being available, 2007 might be the year that decides the actual winner.

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Derf's picture

I've been in perpetuity. It's smaller than Monte Carlo and I couldn't wait to leave.

Richard Gershenson's picture

A more interesting question for me, if Play Station 3 didn't have Blu Ray, what the ratio of DVD's sold would be. Granted, it has been the built in Blu Ray for the Play Station 3 is a fact, making it a moot point. I don't beleive things would have gone the way it has without the Play Station 3. I beleive other studios would have jumped on big time if those DVD sales would have been reversed the Station 3's contribution. Another question I would like to know the answer to,how many stand alone Blu Ray's have been sold vs. HDDVD stand alones? If this format war is really over, I beleive it's solely because Play Station 3.

Stephen's picture

I've read elsewhere that the quickest way to end the war is to petition Universal to release their titles on Blu-ray. Also, on the hardware side, I think Blu-ray is ahead, with many manufacturers now having Blu-ray players in their line-up (Sony, Pioneer, Philips, Panasonic, Samsung). As far as I know, only Toshiba is currently making an HD-DVD player. Also, the price point of some of the Blu-ray players (at least on Amazon) is comparable to that of the Toshiba players. Plus, Blu-ray has PS3, which for many of us will be our first player. Ironically, the one thing that could hamper high definition DVD in any format is the increasing ability of DVD players to upconvert regular DVD's. On the review of the new Toshiba HD-DVD, one of its strongest features is this ability. We want our existing DVD's to look good - but not that good!

Talkstr8t's picture

Richard, clearly the PS3 has had a huge impact on the format war and Blu-ray would be nowhere near as strong as it is without it, but why does that matter ? The PS3 is a factor and as a result Blu-ray is winning and HD DVD's prospects are clearly dimming. Without the PS3 we'd probably be looking at a next-gen format with far less compelling specs (less capacity, less writable support, less flexible interactivity, etc.). I'm pleased to see another industry source acknowledging Blu-ray's strength in the market and that it's time for the format war to end.

Shane's picture

Talkstr8t's point is well taken- indeed, PS3 has been Sony's main thrust for Blu-ray from the beginning, so taking the PS3 out of the equation makes as much sense as taking the entire format out of it. And indeed, when Warner and Paramount dropped exclusive support for HD DVD in favor of doing both formats, execs at the studios citred that they didn't want to be left out on the format supported by PS3, and with good reason. The PS2 sold over 100 million units worldwide, which is staggering. Many industry pundits I know have said two things- that the fomrat war will end if Universal were to to Blu-=ray, and that the war would protract interminably if say, Disney (Buena Vista) were to support HD DVD. And I agree on both points. I personally don't have a vested interest in either format or care which one wins so long as one does. Aside from the other accolades, PS3 is the most advanced player released for either format in terms of connectivity overall decoding capability and disc access

compson's picture

I'm surprised you leap to this conclusion based on one month's sales. Sales of both formats are so low now that new releases skew the results but offer little indication of the formats' potential. Sales figures from Warner of the same new releases would be more telling. BR players are currently priced at a level that would make mass acceptance impossible. If HD DVD players reach the sub-$300 level, they could break out and gain more popular acceptance. That would be especially true, of course, if the format had more studio support, but studios could eventually be attracted by a larger customer base and lower manufacturing costs. I realize we're a far cry from that now, but I'm puzzled that you foresee the end of the war based on a limited skirmage. Of course if BR sales continue to double HD DVD sales, BR will eventually prevail, but you could have said the same thing a month or two earlier with the formats reversed.

Shane's picture

There were no conclusions leapt to. Some think that the format war could last years, but I believe a possibility exists for the outcome to be decided much sooner. The evidence goes far beyond a month of software sales. As of CES 2007, Toshiba executives told me personally that the company had sold 60K HD DVD players in the US. By that time low estimates of PS3 sales were at 600K and high ones at 800K. Even with HD DVD sidecars for the Xbox, huge hardware advantage for BD. According to Sony, 80% of the polled PS3 owners say they'll buy BDs. With PS3 penetration and more standalone BD players available the five BD exclusive studios are ramping up their software output big time. Even with Universal's output, there is no way this can't be construed as BD pulling ahead, maybe for good. That being said, HD DVD is so far a more mature product with respect to consistent quality and advanced interactivity. I'm just not sure it will matter if you can't get Cars and eventually Star W

Steve's picture

I too am not concerned with who the winner is. With such an overwhelming desire on the studios' part to get product to market are we really going to see the content at its best for the format it is being released in? It is worrysome that flawless transfers and lack of support for the new audio formats will take a back seat to getting more content to market before the other guy. Will the disk I buy now be replaced later with a better transfer, in the winning format, because the format war ended and every one is now re-focused on producing a better product?

Shane's picture

First, re-issues with newer, ostensibly better transfers and/or extras will be something that happens now until the end of time. But at this point I don't see image quality or hi-res audio taking a back seat. HD DVD releases have been rock solid from the get-go, and remain consistent from release to reelase acorss just about al participating studios. I think Sony and some others were stung by criticism of their early Blu-ray efforts and have made amends and are pyutting out better product already. On both formats we're getting at least Dolby Digital Plus on just about every title, and Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless and uncompressed PCM are being used consistently by a broad number of providers. I think the war is actually fueling something of a quality contest too. At least now the BD camp acknowledges its adversary enough to know that subpar releases will get the skewered by the press and early adopters.

MJR's picture

How many people who would buy a sub 300 dollar HD-DVD player would hook it up to anything decent? The price driven people are the ones too cheap to buy decent cables for what they have now. The war is not price driven it will be software driven and Univeersal doesn't have the most own titles that the other studios that support Blu-ray do.

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