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Opinion: Blu-ray or HD DVD -- neither, thanks

Most consumers won't even be affected by the outcome of the format skirmish

January 11, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Let me preface this by saying that while I own a 42-in., high-definition television, I do not own a hi-def Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD player. For one, my regular DVD player looks just fine for now on my new television. But I also have no desire to enter the next-generation DVD format battle, so I decided instead to sit it out -- as it appears the vast majority of us have. The good news is we've all made the right choice. Don't buy Blu-ray or HD DVD; they'll both be obsolete from a consumer perspective far too soon.

Last year, about 32 million DVD players sold in the U.S. Of those, about 4%, or 1.5 million, were hi-def optical disc players: 578,000 Blu-ray Disc players and 370,000 HD-DVD players, according to Adams Media Research. So neither hi-def format is on fire. I'll discuss why later. But if you want to call this a next-generation hi-def optical disc war, then Blu-ray has taken a decisive lead over HD DVD in the movie studios that support it.

Who's backing what?

Unless you've been completely unplugged from online news aggregation sites or the blogosphere, you've probably heard that Hollywood's biggest DVD seller, Warner Bros., announced last week that beginning in March it will pull its backing of Toshiba's HD-DVD format and produce its movies exclusively on Sony's Blu-ray format. Warner Bros. already accounts for about 70% of Blu-ray content, according to some published reports.

Blu-ray is now backed by Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM and, of course, Warner Bros., among others. HD DVD is now only supported by Universal Studios and Paramount and its DreamWorks Studios. Things don't look good for HD DVD's longevity. And, in a way, that's too bad.

HD-DVD players have more options, such as onboard flash memory and Internet connectivity, and they have been markedly cheaper than Blu-ray players. The cheapest Blu-ray players have hovered around the $300 mark, including Sony's PlayStation 3, with the higher-quality players (Sony and Panasonic) selling for $400-$450. Pioneer's Blu-ray player will set you back as much as $1,500. Just this week, Sony announced a $200 Blu-ray drive for computers, but contrast that with Toshiba HD-DVD players selling for as little as $99 in Wal-Mart.

The reason HD DVD is so much cheaper, and has been from the start, is because the format is very similar to standard DVD, and it requires very little retooling to the existing machinery that presses DVD discs. In contrast, Blu-ray Disc requires entirely different equipment to press the platters, which translates into expensive factory machine changeout.

Speaking of standard DVDs, which are crucial to Hollywood's profits, those sales have been dropping, too. According to Adams Media, DVD sales, in general, fell 4.8% to $15.7 billion in 2007, the first significant drop since the format was introduced 15 years ago. So it appears that the battle between the hi-def DVD formats is hurting DVD sales and/or more people are getting their movies from video-on-demand services.

Disk, not disc

But Blu-ray news continues to clog the Internet. Rumor has it that Apple will be making a Blu-ray announcement at Macworld next week, possibly a Blu-ray player in the desktop. That would be just great, but I wouldn't care. I'm more interested in whether Apple will be announcing a Blu-ray player in the Apple TV. I'm far more focused on -- and you should be too -- Apple TV and other digital media receivers, which are able to download and store movies and television. Currently, Apple TV comes with up to 160GB of capacity -- that translates into 200 hours of video.



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