Film Studios Cast Vote for HD DVD

The battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD to define the next generation DVD format shows no signs of cooling off. While electronics and computer companies such as Sony, Dell and HP back the Blu-ray specification, proponents of the rival high-definition HD DVD format, including NEC and Toshiba, can now claim movie support from four of the five major Hollywood film studios.

That could be a boon for HD DVD, which also has a backward-compatibility advantage with today’s DVD hardware. Some experts, however, insist the future format will be driven by the PC, which is largely behind Blu-ray.

“I suspect the studios will eventually change direction and go with Blu-ray,” Gartner Research Vice President Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld. “This is probably an announcement that isn’t going to mean much. It’s still too early.”

Film on Format

However, support for HD DVD by New Line Cinema, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers, announced yesterday, gives that format a strong position in the market. HD DVD is also supported by the DVD Forum, an association of more than 200 consumer electronics, IT and entertainment companies.

“We believe that HD DVD has clear advantages in cost of manufacturing and ease of replication, offering consumers the highest quality viewing experience at the most affordable price,” said Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount’s Worldwide Home Entertainment. “We’re confident that retailers and consumers alike will support this compelling new technology.”

The movie studios had been a bit of a wild card in the DVD format battle, but the lines are becoming clearer, with Sony-owned studio Columbia Tri-Star supporting the Blu-ray specification. Sony is also acquiring MGM, which will likely back Blu-ray as well.

Interchange Advantage

The studio support is seen as significant by most industry observers, but there are more technical reasons why the Blu-ray specification might prevail.

The DVD format, which differs from today’s popular red laser technology, has the backing of both electronics and computer manufacturers: Hitachi, Philips, Sony, Samsung, Dell and HP.

John Romano, HP consumer PC senior vice president, said early this year that Blu-ray is the more consumer-friendly technology for storing digital video and other media.

“With ever-expanding uses for digital discs in the market, HP believes Blu-ray Disc will allow for the seamless interchange between consumer electronics and personal computers,” Romano said in a statement.

Tough Sell

Gartner’s Reynolds said there is time for a fight over the competing DVD formats, with Blu-Ray players set for next year and HD DVD equipment expected later. Still, Reynolds said companies run the risk of putting all of the content in one format and all of the players in another.

While he conceded HD DVD has the advantage of working with today’s DVD players, Reynolds indicated that because the next-generation DVD will be driven by the PC, Blu-Ray will be the eventual winner.

“There’s no question that HD DVD has a tremendous uphill battle,” Reynolds said.

The analyst added that consumers are content with the quality of today’s DVDs, which will make it difficult to sell a higher-price product, regardless of format.

Beta Versus VHS

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman said the differing technologies and their backers are on the same path as the Beta versus VHS battle for videocassette format 20 years ago.

“It’s where we’re headed,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld. “This keeps the playing field level. Both [Blu-ray and HD DVD] have hardware companies supporting them, and both have content companies supporting them. Let the battle begin.”

Goodman said it was far too early to predict a winner. “Neither technology is in the market,” he said. Consumers, he said, will play their role in the battle when the devices hit the market.

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