Are Paramount and Universal Holding Out Or Holding Back?

Since Warner dropped its bomb on the format war on January 4th, the clock has been ticking on Universal and Paramount, the remaining HD DVD exclusive studios. When are they going to give up the ghost and go Blu?

Reports flew fast and furious over the next week that Paramount had an "out clause" in its contract with HD DVD, and that Universal's own pact with HD DVD was at a close, not to be renewed again. But what have we actually heard from either studio? Some pretty stock statements that they are still "currently" supporting HD DVD. Read: at this moment, right here and now, etc. , etc. No new title announcements, nothing significant that could possibly constitute a significant vote of confidence for the embattled format let alone a boost.

Toshiba recently announced a "new marketing strategy," which seems eerily similar to the old one but with even deeper discounts. The entry-level HD-A3 is now $149, the 1080p step-up HD-A30 $199 and the top of the line HD-A35 just $299. Is this about fighting back and gaining market share, or is it about dumping remaining inventory? And by not making their obvious plans public, Universal and Paramount considering broader consumer market interests or being good partners to Toshiba?

The perception here and elsewhere is that the war is over, and all that is left is for these two studios to make it official. Even the potential for an unforeseen shift seems all the more unforeseable at this point. Regardless of the deals in place, it appears that there's less incentive than ever for any of the Blu-ray studios to defect. HD DVD is clearly at its weakest, and there is a clarity in the format war we haven't seen since its inception. Even if the players are cheap, does even $150 seem like a good investment to watch high-def movies from just two studios? It's hard to imagine a significant upturn in market share on player hardware turing the tides with the software support being what it is.

I've written as much as anyone about all the things HD DVD did right. It delivered everything it said it would and much more. I'd have had no gripes qualitiatively or otherwise if HD DVD had come out on top and landed the kill shot. It offered the best interactivity, and the most stable platform- first-gen players can all play the latest and greatest features on today's discs. Blu-ray is still fumbling along trying to find the best marketing slang to ease its messy hardware compatibility issues with BD interactivity.

HD DVD also set the bar for HD picture quality high right out of the gate, forcing Blu-ray to clean up its act early on when it released sub-par titles. And it did all of that at prices that we couldn't afford to ignore, which in turn drove down Blu-ray's prices faster than they'd have come down left to their own devices prices. Hd DVD fought the good fight and fought it extraordinarily well for longer than anyone thought possible.

And all of that still wasn't quite enough. The market has spoken, and it's time for Universal and Paramount to make it official and put an end to this chapter so we can move forward and establish HD on a disc as a viable consumer medium. Quick, before Apple or someone else makes inferior downloads stick!

Dan Ellis's picture

I truly wish they had figured HD out before going public. Do you think the consumer will even trust BD once HD-DVD goes away? I mean, now that we know the industry does not cooperate to smoothly roll out standards, how do we know that another HD format will not be coming out next year? Or that five online HD standards won't appear and drive everybody crazy?

Richard deSousa's picture

As long as Sony and Blu Ray continue to foist their high prices on the consumer HD will never succeed. And if Toshiba and HD DVD gives up the fight watch Sony and Blu Ray jack up their prices even higher. Is that good for the consumer? Hell, no. Like other Sony attempts to monopolize the market they will be dooming Blu Ray to the dustbin like their other attempts - SACD, BETA, ATRAC, SDDS, Memory Stick, etc.

Shane's picture

BD players are currently between $350- $399. The same price as the iPhone and other PDAs, and around the same price as the Xbox 360. Is that really an inhibiting price point in this day and age?HD DVD got prices down much lower, that apparently wasn't successful enough.Whatever does win this format war, if it's a physical disc that disc appears to be Blu-ray.

Chris's picture

There is absolutely NO way that downloadable HD can hope to have a stake, maybe in 10 years though. Not when ISP's are capping and charging for overages. A local ISP here provides 15Gig a month, the infrastructure just isn't in place.So off to buy a ps3 i guess, 40gb model at $399 isn't too bad. Or maybe I'll just wait until I buy my new receiver to switch all of these fancy hdmi devices.Oh, and btw, I accidentally defeated the purpose of hdcp. sorry, i really wasn't intending to.. I had my toshiba HDA3 player hooked up to my tv with component and hdmi (wanted to see the quality diff on reg dvd). without the hdmi cable, it would not upscale through component, mentioned that it wasn't permitted. when hdmi cable plugged in, although using component input, upscales beautifully...

Shane's picture

Chris- I agree that it will be at least that long before high quality HD downloads are feasible. But i have to admit being shocked that low-res MP3 defeated both SACD and DVD-Audio the extent that neither of those formats, excellent both, has even survived as a niche format.The mainstream public's willingness to accept horrendous quality in exchange for convenience hasn't ceased to amaze me yet.

Claude's picture

Hello Shane and congratulations!I agree with you notes above but want to add that HD DVD was far from perfect in their initial offerings both from the HW and SW perspective. Other then that, the war is definitely over, it's just a matter of time and "saving face". I do feel sorry for HD DVD owners, but I guess that's the risk you take. As to price, here is a perspective. I bought a DVD player about four years after the format came out and paid $450 for it at discount. So, the same price does not sound horrible to me. Anyway, prices will continue down. Having one format will be a good thing.

Traveler's picture

Cross your fingers and toes that this insane format war is a forgotten nightmare bebore next Xmas shopping season.

Steve in Manitoba's picture

Ah yes, the old convenience issue. Convenience will always be there for hand-helds, but I don't believe it will be accepted as a viable alternative for quality viewing or listening. I too am disappointed that HD DVD is going the way of the Dodo. Even at this early stage it proved itself to be a quickly maturing format. My hats off to Toshiba for the effort. Blu-ray on the other hand, as Shane mentions above, has molted its flights feathers 1.1 or 2.0 times already and who knows how many many more times yet. Will it ever get off the ground. I want an HD format, and was ready to dive into it with HD DVD, but until Blu-ray gets off the ground, yes yes I know it plays discs, and sorts out this profile stuff I'm watching rented DVD's and SD TV. I would plunk down a grand for a quality player playing a mature format but until that appears I can wait. I am quit sure I am not alone. Shane I see the security window thing is still a pain x4 now.

Gary in California's picture

Agree 100% Shane. I've owned both formats through their game systems (was the easiest way to avoid both since I would still be playing games on either when the war was resolved). I've always preferred the more polished operation of the PS3 to the 360 that always seemed to be heaving and breathing hard, to say nothing of the multi-channel lossless that I could never get out of the 360. I'm just glad to see all of this over.Speaking of the PS3, you should add an addendum to your PS3 review with the additional capabilities have been added since then. Sony addressed every shortcoming you came upon except one, which was done by the aftermarket (IR remotes with a USB key).

Spankey's picture

I guess it is now safe for Home Theater Mag to admit its HD-DVD bias? The magazine did everything it could to support HD-DVD and downplay Blu-ray. Just because HD-DVD is gasping for air, Blu-ray is just fine and dandy. Too late HT Mag. I stopped buying your magazine months ago. Your reputation, like a lot of HT sites has been tarnished by your bias.

FutureProof's picture

Spankey, Home Theater magazine now has a new editor. A real editor this time who actually knows home theater, so maybe you should take another look.Also, yeah, HD DVD tried lower prices, and I bet that would have worked if there were no format war. So what we've learned is that a format war will trump all in killing sales when it comes to conusmers. Low prices won't save you.

Shane's picture

"Spankey"- Bring it, don't just sing it.Before taking over as the print mag editor, I was the web editor of Please provide some evidence of this alleged bias.FutureProof- Toshiba apparently isn't giving up that even lower prices will get them back in the game. You and I don't think it will work, but I spoke with Ken Grafeo Friday and Universal is waiting to see if Toshiba can gain more player traction before throwing in the towel.

70sam54's picture

I hope this so called format war keeps going on for a long time. Toshiba is doing the right thing to keep what is a excellant product going. I don't mind owning a dedicated hd dvd player that I can update on line to play all hd movies no matter what the features are by only some of the movie companies as well as being able to upscale all of my standard dvd movies.It also plays cds. I'd rather that then to have to buy a new blu ray player every time new blu ray movies with new interactive features are added. I own one hd dvd player. How many blu ray players does one have to own just to play all their blu ray movies? This is to me pc and mac. They both seem to co exsist very well. But if one perfer high prices for hardware, no dual format combo movies, and whatever spec blu ray decides to put to you in the future and outdate your second blu ray player, than please have at it. I hope Paramount and Universal Pictures continue to support Toshiba in this venture and stand up to Sony.

MJR's picture

Shane: Thanks for getting some info out of Universal. Is there a chance someone over at Paramount would now talk to you. There are so many rumors flying around that real facts are welcome at this point.

Paul's picture

Just curious if anyone that watches Universal HD frequently might know whether they have always had lenghty Blu-Ray adds on their channel? I was watching last night and one came on and it seemed odd that if they are commited to HD-DVD that they would take advertising money from the rival format. Anyone know if these adds have been shown for a while, or could this be a sign of something?

Bob in Stokesdale's picture

I'm not surprised that the mainstream public has chosen convenience. Over and over again I visit friends' houses and for music playback they haveanything from a boombox up to one of those all-in-one systems you can get at Best Buy. Rarely do I see any home theater to speak of. What HT I dosee is usually HTIB with the smallest speakers available. LPs? Ha Ha. I've had people give me boxes of them.My daughters conspired to give me an iPod over Christmas, and even though I got an 80GB, I have to weigh quality vs quantity on deciding what to put into it, as my CD collection would max it out too quickly at the highest resolutions, forcing omissions. Now, the iPod will not replace any music I have, but it allows me now to access my CD collection at work without schlepping CD's back and forth, and wishing I had brought Y CD instead of X CD. I'm beginning to understand the iPod's appeal.I have not bought a HDTV yet, so I was able to sit out this latest format war. Gonna need a n

Archangel's picture

I have been a fence sitter through out this Format War and glad that there is almost one format. I would not say Blu-Ray has official won until Universal and Paramount/DreamWorks has said they will go Blu-Ray. However, I will not be buying a Blu-Ray player until they work all of these problems that they have had with the players and the Blu-Ray DVD's are at a reasonable price. I refuse to buy a Blu-Ray DVD that cost more than $20 unless it is a box set or series.

Brian T's picture

I started looking at Blu-Ray players and soon discovered there isn't one I would want to buy. I wouldn't mind spending $1,000 on a player, but it has to work , load reasonably quickly, not lock-up, not be out of date in 2 weeks, etc. I can't see the market jumping on the band wagon given the current state of Blu-Ray players.

Claude's picture

Brian T. - you are missing out on some great times. I know you are talking about standalones, but the PS3 that I use has been bulletproof. It does all you ask and more. As to disc prices...yes they need to come down below $20, but there are constant sales on Amazon and even in the Big Box stores that have made it worth my while.

70sam54's picture

Brian T, I hope it is not too late to push you over to the hd dvd side of things. If you would of have read my past comments on this hobby I am still using a first generation hd dvd player to play all the hd dvds that have come out. All I have had to do to keep my player up to date is go online to the Toshiba website and update my player. All this is very simple to do. You don't have to worry about being forced to buy a new player to keep up with all the new movies that come out. Good luck with blu ray and good times with hd dvd.

Hank Aberle's picture

I would say that as a loyal proponent of HD DVD with quite an investment in software, it's time to start promoting a BOYCOTT against WARNER and FOX, and anyone else such as CIRCUIT CITY who is taking a stand against HD DVD. They need to know that the consumer has the power to fight back against their decision to try to monopolize a whole new industry.And isn't this an anti trust issue as well? There are just too many HD machines as well as movies out there now to allow such an unethical and immoral situation like this to occur. BOYCOTT is the only answer. I might ad that Toshiba's consumer support is extremely good right now and people ought to start supporting them against the Blu Ray facsists!! BOYCOTT FOX! BOYCOTT WARNER!

Danno's picture

I agree with spanky, I think that shane leaned towards HD-DVD and really put Blu-Ray as a lesser quality product in most of his blogs or article, and would always speak to Ken Graffeo hoping for a sign of comeback. Its sad there was no equality in judging the war of both formats on this site compared to the more informative sites such as Sound & Vision magazine. Oh well, at least Blu-Ray is gonna keep getting better and the war is over!

Matt's picture
Steve in Manitoba's picture

HD-DVD may be dead, but for many of us this does not mean we are running out to pick up our Blu-ray disks and players. Until I feel comfortable knowing the disk I buy 6 months from now will play on a player I buy now, they can stay on the shelf. And that means I'm buying nothing. No Blu-ray, no HD-DVD and no DVD's either. Blu-ray players are still in beta mode and I am not taking the chance. I also refuse to buy DVD's so I can try and sell them later when the Blu-ray version comes out. I do, however, hope that with the end of the format war that the Blu-ray camp can start devoting the effort in maturing the format so that a product comes to market that we can all embrace with confidence. If anything can be learned from the HD-DVD format surely its that bringing a mature format to market is a good thing.

Paul's picture

I'm glad the Blu-ray HD-DVD war is over and I could have cared less which side won. Once the dust settles I think there will be numerous Blu-ray players coming out. With all of the HD TVs sold the last few years there certainly is a market for them. I hoping for a theater in a box with a blu-ray player for my two HD TVs. I've been holding out until now.

Shane's picture

Danno- Come on. It's one thing for us to disagree about whether my posts leaned one way or the other, but you can't just make things up. Even on a Blog.I only spoke to Ken Graffeo twice in my entire life, and I honestly do not recall that I ever wrote about the first occasion. It was brief, and following a major press conference. It was not an interview, as was this last case.So, the contention that I "would always speak to Ken Grafeo" is patently and completely false. It's never stopped being amusing to me how often I was accused of bias for both sides, based on whether I wrote something perceived as favorable to one or the other on a given day.

film izle's picture

ty man

dizi izle's picture

As long as Sony and Blu Ray continue to foist their high prices on the consumer HD will never succeed. And if Toshiba and HD DVD gives up the fight watch Sony and Blu Ray jack up their prices even higher. Is that good for the consumer? Hell, no. Like other Sony attempts to monopolize the market they will be dooming Blu Ray to the dustbin like their other attempts - SACD, BETA, ATRAC, SDDS, Memory Stick, etc.

izlesene's picture
James Gasta's picture

My daughter bought me a Sony Blu Ray player for Christmas. It is one of the newest models, the 350 I believe and I'm loving every minute of it. When you consider what an IPod cost, the price of a decent Blu Ray player isn't out of line at all.I just wish they had more titles available in our area, but I'm sure that will come as more people make the switch.

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