CES Turns Blu

The bombshell dropped yesterday, the day before I was to drive to CES. And I don't mean the deluge that hit LA and tested the leaks in my roof (they still work!). It was Warner's decision to go Blu-ray exclusive starting this coming May. Why they aren't doing so immediately is a bit of a puzzle, but is likely due to contractual obligations and to keep from scrapping product already in the pipeline.

Of course, that begs the question of who will buy the remaining stocks of HD DVDs. It's hard to see how this development as anything less than the nail in HD DVD's coffin.

Of course there is still Universal and Paramount/Dreamworks. I suspect they are under some sort of contractual obligation to continue to support HD DVD until who knows when. They, and Toshiba, may decide to tough it out for a while. But a single hardware manufacturer and two studios does not a format make (though Universal does have a very deep catalog).

I'm not dancing in the street. I am rarely disappointed with what I see and hear from HD DVD. Its most significant shortcoming is data space, making titles with high resolution, lossless audio far more rare than on Blu-ray. HD DVD tried to sell this by claiming that Dolby Digital Plus is high resolution. It isn't, really. Though it can sound very good, it is not lossless. HD DVD also does not offer whiz-bang special features that Blu-ray claims, but that Blu-ray is only beginning to deliver—and only then on newer players and a few discs.

But I do hope that this ends the format war. The film studios probably hope so also. Movie revenues were relatively flat in 2007, and DVD sales continue to taper off. They need a new format to sell. Not only are downloads still scarce on the HD side, but the potential for the Kazza-ization of movies gives movie moguls night sweats. (Speaking of Kazza, I on the drive into Vegas I heard on the radio that a single mother was just convicted and fined $220,000 by the FCC for posting 24 songs on the Internet).

We'll find out more this week. The Warner story promises to dominate the news at CES. It will be interesting to hear the press conference spin by companies that continue to support HD DVD—and who perhaps planned on making HD DVD the centerpiece of their displays. The HD DVD group has already cancelled a press event.

I just hope there aren't any companies showing new HD DVD players at the show. And where all this leaves dual format players is also a good question.

We'll be reporting all the news, about this story and others, plus info on all the new products, in our show blogs. Visit early. Visit often.