More HD Disc News – Watching the War

The one thing that is needed in the HD Disc Wars is for the remaining film studios supporting HD-DVD to switch sides to Blu-ray. And that may have just happened.

Universal Studios, staunch supporters of HD-DVD exclusively, just announced they plan to continue to support HD-DVD for now, but no longer exclusively. And Paramount is no longer locked to HD-DVD either. While not the definitive final blow, this is significant news. It means both studios have recognized they are in the minority, and since studios are all about making money, they have realized their profits lie on the BD side, more so than HD-DVD.

What really swayed the war? We think the Blockbuster announcement of last spring may of done it. While you might still find a few HD-DVDs in a hand full of Blockbuster stores, they aren’t a growing number (probably shrinking, due to Blockbuster’s ‘you don’t have to return it’ policy). If you want to rent an HD Disc, you have to have a Blu-ray player. And if you buy a Blu-ray player, you’ll only buy BD discs. So the chicken/egg problem is solved.

What’s interesting is, contrary to what Universal Studios has been saying, the consumer’s choice of low-cost hardware didn’t drive the war. HD-DVD players are still a couple of hundred less than BD players, but what good is that if you can’t get the movie you want? In fact, it seems this was not a decision driven by the market, as much as by the studios. As consumers, if we had two equal quality choices, we’d always pick the cheaper. But we didn’t have tha choice. It was made for us by the studios, and it wasn’t the less expensive option.

We still advise our clients to wait just a bit longer to buy their Blu-ray player, though. Players we’ve tested all make wonderful pictures and sound, but operationally are disasters. Not just flakey, true disasters. It’s a firmware/software issue we know will be fixed. But if you want to avoid frustration, and wait for the war to end, get one of the Oppo up-converting DVD players, see your current DVDs in near-high def, and wait for manufacturers to polish up their BD players. You’ll soon buy one for $200 that will be great.

High Def Disc News!

Here’s a clipping from USD Today:
——
In a stunning announcement Warner Bros. Studios announced today that they will be releasing High Definition DVD Discs exclusively in the Blu-Ray Format. They will continue to release titles in the HD-DVD format thru May, but those releases will come after the Blu-Ray and Standard Definition releases.

“The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers,” Warner Bros Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer said in a statement.

Warner Bros is the biggest seller of DVD’s with an 18 to 20% market share. in the United States. They were one of the few studios that backed both formats.

——–

Note also that Blockbuster only rents Blu-Ray.

Comments: While both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray provide excellent HD picture and sound, it seems sort of dumb that consumers face a ‘choice’. We quote ‘choice’ because the choice of which player to buy will be mostly driven by two things: price of the player itself and availability of your favorite movies. If you want the new Bladerunner Collector’s Edition 5 disc set, you’ll be buying a Blu-Ray player, for example.

But don’t forget these cautions: Neither HD-DVD nor Blu-Ray players work very well. Yes, they play videos well, but both take up to 2 minutes to load a new disc, and menu systems continue to be clunky and glitchy with reported lock-ups on both systems. If you are like us, we expect fast response from pressing remote control buttons, and that spells frustration for a new user of either HD disc format player.

Don’t forget the “third option”! A good up-converting standard DVD player. Our favorite are those by Oppo (sold direct). They are inexpensive, and convert standard DVDs to stunning, if slightly less than true HD, 1080p signals. Don’t underestimate the power of these units! If you have a 50″ HD screen, a well up-converted standard DVD will amaze you to the point you will forget it’s not true HD. That means your existing library of standard DVDs is fully enjoyable on your HD screen. If you have a really large screen, like 80″ or more, or sit very close, you may notice that a up-converted DVD isn’t as good as a true HD disc. But for most viewers, it’s quite good enough. At least, we expect it to hold us over until whatever format wins has players that are reliable, responsive, and not frustrating to use. At least we know of no standard DVD player that, after a firmware update from its manufacturer, refuses to play a particular HD disc at all! That’s what happened to one of our clients with a Panasonic Blu-Ray player and one of his early BD movies. Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done.