HD DVD: Fight or Quit (Preferably Quit)
August 2, 2007 10:37 AM
Let’s take a moment to push for the end of the pointless war that nobody wanted; the costly quagmire that’s drained resources and consumed the media with its constant, bloody scrimmages.
In the past few weeks, Sony’s Blu-ray next-generation DVD format has enjoyed several victories over Toshiba’s rival HD DVD: Target will sell only Blu-ray players this holiday season. The East Coast chain BJ’s Warehouse Club will exclusively sell Blu-ray titles. Steven Spielberg announced he will release his first movie in a high-def format, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” on Blu-ray. The Japanese porn industry has embraced Blu-ray. Even thieves robbing a Seattle store cleaned out its stock of Blu-ray discs, leaving HD DVD titles behind (how sad, chortle the bloggers, HD DVD movies are not even worth stealing).
Coming shortly after Blockbuster’s announcement that the chain will mainly stock Blu-ray titles, the headlines paint a portrait of pending HD DVD doom. All that's left is a period of Toshiba desperately hanging on. The face-saving final efforts. The company’s fingers slipping from the edge of the format-war cliff and blissfully falling into Betamax oblivion.
Trouble is, rooting for a Sony win feels like cheering for a fighter throwing low blows when the referee’s not looking. Sony stuffed 4 million overpriced PlayStation 3 units with similarly overpriced Blu-ray players and leveraged its relationship with studios to monopolize distribution of key DVD titles.
Just as important, but little noticed, is that Sony has been wildly effective at generating headlines declaring Blu-ray victories—even when the triumphs are modest. BJ’s Warehouse Club? Japanese porn? “Close Encounters”? Minor accomplishments that are killing HD DVD. When consumers think Blu-ray has won, it has.
This isn’t to say Blu-ray isn’t winning in less superficial respects. See this big brick wall of blue? That’s how often Blu-ray titles topped HD DVD in a variety of sales categories on Amazon.com. The week of July 22, Blu-ray captured 74 percent of high-def disc sales to HD DVD’s 26 percent, according to Nielsen VideoScan. Not good.
Toshiba has sold more stand-alone players, mainly because Blu-ray players cost $999 earlier this year and are still currently overpriced at $479. HD DVD players have dived to $243, and Xbox 360’s add-on HD-DVD units now sell for $179. Many consumers are snapping up Toshiba’s reasonably priced high-def player to accompany their new HDTV set without realizing the carnage-filled battlefield they’re stumbling onto.
“Every time Sony pulls a press prank, HD DVD counters with a price drop,” smartly notes one of many HD DVD fans on AVS Forum. But Toshiba is nearing the bottom for DVD player pricing, while Sony has a long way to go.
Recently a research company predicted the high-def format battle will continue well into 2012, with both sides evenly splitting the market. This nightmarish conclusion ignores the real sentiment driving the war’s end game: Studios don’t want two formats. Retailers don’t want two formats. Consumers don’t want two formats.
And when studios almost entirely align under Blu-ray, retailers begin exclusively stocking Blu-ray products, customers prefer Blu-ray titles, and the press writes stories of Blu-ray victories … then HD DVD really is wasting time hanging on the cliff’s edge.
Toshiba needs to start generating some victory-lap “press prank” headlines of their own—or let go.