February 1, 2008
The Blu-ray vs. HD DVD Battle Is Over . . . Probably
Until the end of 2007, the format war of Blu-ray Disc vs. HD DVD was largely undecided, and left consumers unsure of which technology to invest in. Nor was it possible to glean any reliable insight from most of the hardware and software manufacturers to help solidify a decision. The Blu-ray team claimed they were taking over the market. So did the HD DVD camp. It was like asking one of the presidential candidates who would win the next primary.
But as 2008 opened, three things happened that have probably put an end to the format war and catapulted Blu-ray into the top spot.
First and foremost, on January 4, Warner Bros. Entertainment announced their exclusive endorsement of Blu-ray, saying that theyll cease production of HD DVDs by the end of May. This is significant. Although HD DVD is backed by Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. is considered the biggest studio. Therefore, most consider the announcement a crushing blow to HD DVD -- even if the HD DVD side hasnt yet thrown up its hands and conceded defeat.
Then, on January 7-10, the annual Consumer Electronics Show came along, and what happened there was telling. The HD DVD consortium was scheduled to hold a press conference at the start of CES but didnt, evidently taken by surprise by Warners announcement just three days before. Another thing was the obviously greater support of Blu-ray evident on the show floor. Our own CES 2008 reporting team saw plenty of excitement at the Blu-ray booth, as well as a number of manufacturers who were showing their next generation of Blu-ray players. On the HD DVD side, their main display was like a graveyard, and no manufacturer we saw, including HD DVD stalwart Toshiba, exhibited any new HD DVD players, or any sign of developing the next generation.
Third, Blu-ray is now making its way into the adult-film industry, an area of the entertainment business that not only generates enormous revenue, but that often implements new technologies more quickly than the mainstream; theyre something of a barometer for what might succeed. (Porns impact in this format war is likely to be less than during the Beta vs. VHS days of the 1980s. Adult content is now distributed in many other ways, including downloading and cable TV, so its unlikely well see nearly as many adult titles released in high-definition formats as we saw on videotape. Still, porns large and lucrative presence will have some sort of effect.)
Ive been watching developments in the adult area for a long time now, and, as Ive done in previous years, I sat down with Joone, the technically savvy founder of Digital Playground, the adult industrys leader in providing hi-def content. Digital Playground has long supported Blu-ray, mostly because the format has a far greater storage capacity than HD DVD -- it allows them to put longer movies and more extras on a single disc. Last year, though, Joone told us that the adult industry couldnt get Blu-ray discs produced, a result of something in the disc replicators contracts that prohibited production of adult content. Therefore, Digital Playground, wanting to get a head start in providing adult-oriented hi-def software, was forced to use HD DVD. As of CES 2008, Digital Playground had 26 HD DVD titles under its belt.
However, with Blu-ray production becoming more common and independent disc replicators now surfacing without the same constraints, the adult-film industry can now get Blu-ray titles pressed. Digital Playground released their popular Pirates video in December 2007 -- the first adult feature ever to appear on Blu-ray. They plan to release many more titles in 2008, far surpassing their current HD DVD catalog.
Digital Playground is banking on Blu-ray, the format they wanted to see win all along. Joone predicts a serious downturn in HD DVD sales by the end of 2008 -- not only because the makers of adult films will go that way, but because the entire video industry is heading in that direction.
The battle of Blu-ray vs. HD DVD is probably over -- probably because no side has yet conceded defeat, and its impossible for anyone to know what, exactly, will happen. But it seems pretty obvious that unless the HD DVD consortium has some secret weapon theyve not yet used -- which is unlikely -- the Blu-ray team has by now built up too much momentum to be stopped.