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Dark Clouds Ahead for HD DVD

Jan 21, 2008 12:00 PM

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What custom installer didn’t see this one coming? Two disc formats hit the market promising to be the sole proprietor of the high-definition video disc, and only one, presumably, will succeed. Warner Home Video’s announcement on the eve of CES that it was abandoning HD DVD and putting all its apples in the Blu-ray basket portends the demise of the HD DVD campaign.

To its credit, though, HD DVD, led by Toshiba, isn’t going down without some sort of fight. Toshiba slashed prices on its existing three players last week in an effort to get consumers to flock to what could be seen as a fire sale. Prices for the three players are now $149, $199, and $299.

The company made no new HD DVD announcements at CES. Toshiba Marketing Vice President Jodi Sally expressed surprise and disappointment at the Warner news when addressing journalists at the company’s press conference but vowed that Toshiba would keep up the fight.

Meanwhile, the HD DVD Promotion Group canceled its press event, and the most recent press release on the organization’s website dated back to Halloween. This may be a war that only the industry really cares about. Consumers haven’t exactly been busting down the doors to get an upgrade for their DVD players. Blu-ray can largely thank Playstation 3 for its sellthrough.

According to David Young, president of The Sound Room in Chesterfield, MO, customers haven’t shown a preference for one format or the other. They just want one standard.

Young says that reports that the adult film industry is in the HD DVD camp and not Blu-ray could be another nail in the coffin for HD DVD. “Between the Warner decision and the adult industry decision,” he says, “I think the writing is on the wall. We will not be ordering any HD-DVD players from our suppliers with the exception of the multi-format LG player.”

That includes the high-end Integra model which debuted last year along with a model from Onkyo. A spokesperson for Onkyo and Integra said a company statement was in the works regarding the HD DVD situation but no official announcement had been made.

As with the Beta vs.VHS battle in the last video format war, the issue was never about quality or technology. And in the high-def video battle, both formats have fared well on the quality front, although next-gen features surrounding web-enabled features have yet to be fully realized or proven by either side.

The issue instead is about content. Consumers want to know that before they invest in a video library, the discs they buy will survive for the long haul. And they want to know there will be plenty more where those came from.

Warner’s 11 o’clock CES announcement put HD DVD’s future into question, leaving Paramount as the sole major studio in the HD DVD camp for the remainder of the year. Even that appears shaky. According to a Jan. 8 report by Reuters, Paramount is said to have a clause in its contract with the HD DVD camp that would allow it to change sides if Warner Bros. were to back Blu-ray exclusively.

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