Rant on HD-DVD losing the format war

As many of you know I am a fan of the Xbox 360, Media Center, etc. and have given presentations combining the two technologies in the past. I am an avid media geek, and the HD-DVD format wars has been near and dear to me. I felt I needed an outlet to express my thoughts and concerns on the matter, so here I go.


By now most of you following the “Format wars” (Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD) have heard that HD DVD has lost.
http://www.engadget.com/2008/02/19/official-HD-DVD-dead-and-buried-format-war-is-over/


I personally was hoping HD DVD would be the “winner”, or at least continue to be relevant as a format.  Unfortunately, many retailers (Best Buy, Wal-mart, etc) have announced that they will no longer sell HD DVD.  In addition, Toshiba just announced they are going to cut their losses on HD DVD and move on to the next thing. 


On the surface, one might think “yay, this is great news! the format war is over!” and they’d be right in a certain sense. I just wish I would not have been an early adopter of the HD DVD- I got the drive for Christmas this year, and not 2 weeks later there was the announcement from Warner Brothers that they were defecting from the HD DVD format and going Blu-Ray exclusive.  I believe that was the turning point for the format wars.


However, being a big fan of Microsoft technology, and particularly the Xbox 360, I am very disappointed by MSFT’s response.  Maybe they are too busy thinking about a forced takeover of Yahoo right now 🙂 But I really don’t think Microsoft yet realizes what it means. They are sticking to the mantra that “games sell consoles, not high definition discs”:


http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/business/news/e3i759fab371cec787336690de1202691ab


http://www.macworld.com/article/132151/2008/02/xbox360.html


Of course there is some truth to that, but how do you explain PS3 sales shooting through the roof? Could the 60% increase in sales at Amazon be related, or is this just coincidence? Maybe PS3 all the sudden was releasing some great games?  A halo 3 equivalent perhaps? I may be off base here, but I am guessing the increase in sales may have at least SOMETHING to do with the recent HD-DVD announcement.


http://news.punchjump.com/article.php?id=5584


When I read the Toshiba press release about canning HD DVD, the first thing that entered my mind was “now I need to buy a Blu-Ray player”. I am an early adopter. I want to enjoy HD content on my HDTV’s.  I will never buy another “standard” DVD knowing that things are coming out on in the HD format. Why should I? There is such a drastic difference.   The only logical thing for me to do is buy a Blu-Ray player.  And if I buy one, what are my choices?


Anyone following Blu-Ray players will know that the PS3 is one of the few (if not only) players that is “future proof”. This is due to the ever changing Blu-Ray standard. People who early-adopted non-PS3 players supported only the earlier “versions” (aka profiles) of Blu-Ray, and are now stuck with paper weights (welcome to the club!).


http://www.about-electronics.eu/2008/01/21/ps3-only-future-proof-blu-ray-player/


So… again what are my choices?  If I am smart, my ONLY current choice is a PS3 if I want to protect my investment. This is where Microsoft is not seeing clearly.  The PS3 is a Trojan horse to get Blu-Ray into the home, and as a result, a way to get game consoles in the home. If I buy a PS3 as a Blu-Ray player, I’m also going to be tempted to buy some PS3 games.  What does this ultimately mean for the console wars?  It means that high definition discs DO sell consoles.


If Microsoft wants to maintain the lead in the console market, I think they are going to have to take some drastic measures, and VERY soon. First of all, it may not be enough just to announce a new add-on device. By the time Microsoft comes to market, PS3’s will have gained significant ground and the argument of “we have the best games” may not hold as much water.  Microsoft is probably going to need to offer incentive.  Personally I’d like to see a free Blu-Ray drive for anyone who can prove they purchased an HD-DVD drive.  That is about the only thing that would prevent me from buying a PS3 at this point. And the drive would need to be rolled out by the time all the HD-DVD discs are liquidated (I’m guessing a 2-3 months time frame).


I hear a lot of talk about Microsoft hoping to make digital distribution the next big thing, and to compete against the physical formats.  I download a lot of videos through Xbox Live, but it doesn’t compare to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray.  There are two big reasons why: the download is compressed video, and I can’t “keep it”. It appeals to a different market. When I download something, it’s because I needed a quick fix and didn’t want to go to the video store.  I never really own a download, and it can’t sit on my shelf. Once I download it, I have a window of which I can watch it.  This really doesn’t work out well for my family- especially my kids. They like to watch the same thing over and over again for months at a time. I’m certainly not going to pay a rental price each time I want to re-download the same video. Ok, so maybe Microsoft could let me “buy” the download. Not a good option either, because now I am going to have to over pay for a hard drive to keep all my videos on, with no way of archiving them off.   In order for downloads to work, they need to be full-fidelity and archiveable without DRM hassles- I don’t see that happening any time soon.


Hopefully someone is listening, or at the very least Microsoft comes up with a better strategy. If not, prepare to watch market share erode. 


One other final comment that makes me feel a little better abut my investment in the HD-DVD add-on- it’s always good to end on a positive note. Toshiba seemed to indicate it is going to review support for HD-DVD drives in notebook PC’s.  It sounds like the format MAY not go entirely the way of the dodo bird, at least for those of us wanting to use it on PC’s.  For those of you not aware, it is entirely possible to burn an HD-DVD today with a traditional (red-laser) DVD burner and watch it on any HD-DVD player. I’ve been doing that with my home video collection. There are software packages out there (such as Ulead Media Studio 11) that will let you burn these DVD’s- giving you about 30-45 minutes of content in high def (playable only in an HD-DVD player).  I’m a little nervous about continuing to burn in this format- what happens when my player is done for? How will I replace it?  However, if Toshiba commits to keeping the PC players alive that may not be a concern and it could still be an area for growth.

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