HD-DVD Delayed?

What a difference nine months can make. At CES 2005 in January the HD-DVD group hosted a gala event at a posh Vegas strip nightclub to unveil its plan to be the first HD disc format to market with the most- Toshiba said they’d have a $999 player in the fourth quarter of 2005 and representatives from major studios such as Warner, Paramount, and Universal strode to the podium amid swirling lights and pledged their support for the format to the tune of 90 HD-DVD titles at launch. All the elements seemed in place for a strong pre-emptive strike against Blu-ray, which has yet to announce a US launch date of either hardware or pre-packaged movie titles. The splashy 2005 holiday season launch was to be one of HD-DVD’s key advantages over the rival Blu-ray Disc format.

Flash-forward to September 1 and the word down all the news wires was that HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba, NEC and others, had backed off of its planned late 2005 launch, delaying until 2006.

“The timing for the US market is just a matter of finalizing discussions with all of our partners, the retailers, the studios, and the replication houses so that we can go out there with all of the pieces in place and have as much impact as we possibly can,” said Toshiba’s Mark Knox, referring to the launch delay reports in early September.

Editor-In-Chief Tom Norton caught up with Knox a few days later in Indianapolis at CEDIA 2005, and was told that a late '05 launch still wasn't out of the question but declined to cite any specific dates. But is there still an HD-DVD party if the studios don't come?

The delay reports follow some potentially significant setbacks for HD-DVD with Hollywood studios. Although it came as no surprise, Fox announced in late July that it would be backing the rival Blu-ray format. But in early August HD-DVD’s biggest studio supporters Paramount, Universal and Warner began to scale back their involvement in the 2005 HD-DVD launch.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Paramount, which had committed to 20 titles for the late 2005 launch decided not to release any HD-DVD titles this year. Universal announced 20 HD-DVD titles in January of ’05 (of mostly catalog titles), but as of August was committed to only a dozen releases late this year. But perhaps the biggest blow dealt to HD-DVD yet came from the format's staunchest studio supporter, Warner Home video, which the WSJ reported in August now considers its exact HD-DVD plans “up in the air.” Warner’s Jim Cardwell was quoted as saying, “If there is a unification of formats we would want to work toward that.”

As of late August virtually all indications are that the on again/off again discussions between the HD-DVD Group and the Sony-led Blu-ray group to come up with a unified format remain stalled.

With the planned late 2005 launch HD-DVD was hoping to gain some critical traction in the market place before Blu-ray had even launched, or, one would assume, at the very least remain in a strong negotiating position in talks to unify the formats. If HD-DVD's supporting studios are getting cold feet, the launch delay could prove a turning point in this format war.