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Blu-ray: 7, HD DVD:1

On the eve of the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, Warner Bros. Entertainment announced that it will exclusively distribute its titles in Sony Corp.'s Blu-ray disc format beginning in June.

ON THE EVE OF THE 2008 CONSUMER Electronics Show, Warner Bros. Entertainment announced that it will exclusively distribute its titles in Sony Corp.'s Blu-ray disc format beginning in June. Previously, the studio distributed in the Blu-ray and Toshiba HD DVD formats simultaneously “in an effort to provide consumer choice, foster mainstream adoption, and drive down hardware prices,” according to Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner president and CEO. In response, Toshiba announced that, based on its fourth-quarter sales, it will deploy new marketing initiatives for the company's HD DVD players.

In light of these developments, the consumer electronics industry's question has been, “What does this mean for HD DVD?” Our question is, “What does this mean for pro AV?”

While Warner Bros.' decision mainly affects consumers, it doesn't mean pros shouldn't pay attention. Residential, corporate, and hospitality applications, among others, will soon be affected, and it's important to know what the options are in order to convey them to clients. Some may recall a similar situation between Beta and VHS; but unlike that historic struggle, this one doesn't appear to have a predictable winner.

As of press time, the Blu-ray Disc Association says that seven of the eight major motion picture studios distribute titles in Blu-ray format. Paramount continues to split distribution between the two formats. Only Universal Studios maintains HD DVD exclusivity.

Blu-ray may have most of the studios on its side, which leads many to believe the format competition will soon be over, but Toshiba's lower prices and larger catalog keep HD DVD in the game. “The price points [Toshiba] has set now makes these players the same cost as up-scaling red-laser players,” says industry expert and PRO AV contributing editor Pete Putman. Plus, Microsoft offers an external HD DVD drive that connects to its Xbox 360 game consoles, apparently to compete with the PS3's two-in-one advantage. “[Toshiba's] hope, I'm guessing, is that enough HD DVD players will wind up in the market that studios will have to support the format, otherwise they'll miss out on extras sales,” he says. Toshiba boasts that there are approximately 800 titles available in HD DVD; currently there are about 460 Blu-ray titles in the marketplace.

The commercial sector is an obvious source of new fate-deciding customers. According to Putman, HD DVD and Blu-ray drives will soon appear on PCs and notebooks — Sony's Vaio FZ series already offers a Blu-ray drive. He also expects Pioneer to introduce a commercial Blu-ray player like its 8000 series red-laser DVD player for industrial installations.

But in the end, it may not even matter.“Less than 1 million blue-laser players [were] sold in 2007; in contrast, 33 million red-laser players were sold in 2006,”Putman points out. DVD player sales and disc sales are declining every year, largely due to video on-demand and IP-enabled set-top boxes for movie downloads, he adds. It's only a matter of time before fiber-optic connections and the security precautions necessary to protect high-definition content are widespread enough that downloading HD movies will be second nature; Apple's announcement at the 2008 Macworld Expo that it will venture into online movie rentals confirms this new direction. So it's possible that, by the time the Blu-ray versus HD DVD format war is over, consumers will be downloading movies directly to their televisions via the Internet, and disc players could be a thing of the past.


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