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The end is nigh for HD DVD, but will Blu-ray prevail?

by Parm Mann on 15 February 2008, 11:09

Tags: Blu-ray Players, Toshiba (TYO:6502)

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Will Toshiba pull the plug on HD DVD?

It's a sad time to be in the HD DVD supporter's camp, but, it has to be even more depressing to be at Toshiba.

The companies HD DVD format, once seen as a confident competitor to Sony's Blu-ray, has had its fair share of problems over the past few months. The format had initially looked strong and many had backed it as a possible winner in the so called format war.

Today however, sources at hollywoodreporter.com suggest that Toshiba could be preparing to pull the plug on HD DVD in the coming weeks. Though Toshiba hasn't confirmed any such action itself, Jodi Sally, vice president of marketing at Toshiba's America Consumer Products has said "Given the market developments in the past month, Toshiba will continue to study the market impact and the value proposition for consumers, particularly in light of our recent price reductions on all HD DVD players".

Having slashed prices of its HD DVD players in an effort to achieve significant market penertration, Toshiba is now sure to be making a loss on each HD DVD player sold. Therefore, it is looking increasingly likely that HD DVD is going to suffer a quicker than expected death. But where did it all go wrong? In January, Warner Bros. movie studio, once supporters of both formats, decided to back Blu-ray exclusively. That move is considered by some to be the moment that HD DVD lost all momentum.

Following the decision by Warner Bros., DVD rental service Netflix and large US retailer BestBuy have both decided to drop support for HD DVD and to focus on Blu-ray instead.

Support from movie studios however is in my estimation not the cause for Toshiba's HD DVD woes. Here are a few reasons why I believe HD DVD and indeed Blu-ray, have struggled to make the impact they need.

  • HD DVD and Blu-ray aren't a significant enough leap from DVD. Yes, both formats provide better picture quality, increased storage capacity and the promise of better special features. But, despite the advantages, it doesn't come close to the jump made many years ago from VHS to DVD. Back then, there was a true reason to upgrade, the benefits of DVD to VHS were plentiful, the same can't be said when moving from DVD to HD DVD or Blu-ray.

HD-DVD player

  • Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs) are just too good. DVDs may have been around for a while, but they still do the job and are still the preferred format. The storage medium has matured nicely the over the years and today's upscaling DVD players provide speed, functionality and quality at a fraction of the price of HD DVD or Blu-ray players.

    A trip to your local supermarket, Tesco is my example, will also highlight a distinct price difference between movies themselves. At my local Tesco, I can purchase 2007 movie, 300, for just £6.97 on DVD. The cost of the movie on HD DVD or Blu-ray? £17.97! Granted, for the extra money you do get better picture quality and a host of special features, but I personally would still opt for the standard DVD - the movie wasn't in "high definition" when I watched it at the theatre - heck, it wasn't even digital - I don't see the need to pay extra to see it in high definition at home.

  • Market penetration. Here's another area where Toshiba has struggled. Both standalone HD DVD players and Blu-ray players aren't selling well, that's a fact. Worse still, they're selling in smaller numbers than standard DVD players.

    Blu-ray fortunately has the added advantage of being integrated into Sony's own PlayStation 3 console, of which nearly 10 million units have been sold worldwide. As a result, there are millions more Blu-ray capable machines in the hands of consumers than there are HD DVD. Aware of the fact, both retailers and movie studios are now clearly opting for Blu-ray as their preferred medium - there are after all more customers readily available.

Blu-ray player

  • Never an ideal time. Strangely enough, it appears that there wasn't a good time for either HD DVD or Blu-ray to land on the market. Were they too late or were they too soon? I'd say it's a bit of both.

    Too soon in the sense that the majority of the population doesn't have HD capable TVs, indeed, I don't actually know a personal friend of family member who owns a full 1080p capable set - I like to think of myself as fairly high-tech yet even I only have TVs capable of 720p. With that in mind, an upgrade to HD DVD or Blu-ray for many users doesn't just mean purchasing a new player, it can also mean upgrading to a largely expensive TV too - note that this confusing problem of HD resolutions didn't exist when switching from VHS to DVD.

    Looking at the launch of HD DVD and Blu-ray from the opposite angle, they could both also be too late to market. Digital distribution is making plenty of progress itself and with many of the biggest names (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and more) all pushing for a future where movies and other content are distributed to customers via an internet cable, physical storage media faces a potentially smaller slice of the market.

    In an odd sort of way, digital distribution may offer more benefits than HD DVD or Blu-ray for users upgrading from DVD. You won't need to buy a new standalone player, you won't need to store a new collection of discs and the movies are likely to be cheaper too. Movie studios will also see the benefits, there isn't a need to manufacture movies onto disc - they can be sold digitally to an ever increasing audience. Though the benefits are obvious, digital distribution still has a way to go. Faster broadband networks however are certainly paving the way for a digital approach to media.

Those are just a few of the problems surrounding both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Though HD DVD appears destined for an uncertain future, will Blu-ray prove to be any different? Will it ever dislodge DVD as the preferred format among consumers? I'm not so sure, there is a clear possibility that DVD will remain the format of choice up until digital distribution becomes the norm, and even then, it'll be hard to see DVDs fade into the background as VHS once did.

Have you adopted HD DVD or Blu-ray? How do you feel about your choice, and the future of your preferred format? Voice your opinion in the HEXUS forums.

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indeed, I don't actually know a personal friend of family member who owns a full 1080p capable set

Awwww….we ALL think of you as family, Parm…

Seriously though, I think you're absolutely right. There just isn't the gain to justify the cost currently. I DO have a 1080P set, but I don't have an HD-DVD or Blu-ray player. I have an upscaling combo job that does VHS and DVD and upscales to 1080P and the results are pretty fabulous. I have a V+ box and have watched stuff in HD on that, and I simply can'y justify the massive price premium for gains in picture quality that are at best marginal. That said, it also does a grand job of upscaling SD channels. Don't get me wrong, if there's an On-Demand movie that I want to see that's available in normal or HD I'll take the latter, for the same reason I watch Torchwood in HD. It IS marginally better and it's there to do. Spend hundreds more on a player and then three times as much for every film for that marginal gain, though? Nope.
the movie wasn't in “high definition” when I watched it at the theatre - heck, it wasn't even digital

Film is a higher resolution than 1080p howevwer, so it would have been in HD. Imagine watching a 720x576 film on a 40' or bigger screen? No thanks.

I do know plenty people with full HD sets though, but most are waiting to move into the HD market. I think that you're probably not wrong with regards to the cost of the players/films that's putting people off.
It's purely the cost of the films that puts me off, I'd have no problem spending £130 or so to equip my PC with a BR/HD combi drive but I refuse to pay ~£25 per film when I can get 4 or 5 DVDs for that price.
HD is great n'all (i've got a 1080P set) but TBH upscaled DVD really isn't that bad either..

Cost is definitely the factor for me too - DVD is so cheap. HDDVD isn't blu-rays biggest problem, DVD is.
Film is a higher resolution than 1080p howevwer, so it would have been in HD. Imagine watching a 720x576 film on a 40' or bigger screen? No thanks.
Indeed. Film is actually up to the equivelant of 4K or 8K resolution. waaaaaay higher than HD.

If you have a look for true high end projectors, they upscale full HD video to their native resolution. I think they are even higher than the Quad-HD sets being shown at CES.

Does anyone else think that Bluray will end up being called HD DVD or HiDef DVD eventually anyway? Obviously it won't be official, but when a friend or family member asks me “what is this blue ray thing then?” the answer will pretty much be “it's HD (or HiDef) version of DVD”. You hear this enough, and it will become HD DVD in peoples minds.

Oh and because they are 12cm shiney disks, people will still call the actual disks CDs. I've heard this a lot. DVD isn't working in a player = “take the CD out and give it a wipe”