HP Hedging Bets in DVD Format War

It appears that one side may be hanging by a thread in the battle over the next generation of DVD discs. Although PC giant HP indicated it may sway from its support of Blu-ray to the competing HD-DVD format or both, analysts are handicapping the contest as a win for Blu-ray, though not so much for consumers.

HP prolonged the conflict over the dueling formats by voicing its potential change of heart based on the Blu-ray Disc Association’s response to its call for an iHD rather than Java platform, which is important to PC makers and will be supported in Microsoft’s coming Vista operating system.

However, analysts said other PC support, and more importantly movie studio support, was lined up squarely behind Blu-ray, and the format may win despite ongoing confusion in the marketplace and concerns about its copy protection.

Some Hurdles Remain

Gartner research Vice President Van Baker told TechNewsWorld that a representative of the Blu-ray camp recently said there was little left to resolve, and the format was on its way to the preferred standard.

“The only thing that’s really left is iHD,” Baker said. “Is iHD really that big of a thing to disrupt this whole movement? I don’t think so.”

“It looks dangerously close to Blu-ray winning,” he added.

While Microsoft has stepped ahead of HP and declared its support for the more PC friendly HD-DVD format, the software giant did not support DVDs when the video discs emerged in the market, Baker pointed out.

The analyst said while others, such as Intel, are maintaining neutrality in the fight, the bulk of movie studio and PC industry support favors Blu-ray.

Consumers Watching

Baker echoed other industry observers in stressing how turned off consumers will be if the formats are both pushed into competition in the market.

“To the degree there is a perception in the market this is a format war, if there are competing formats, consumers aren’t going to buy,” he said.

Baker said consumers who still want high-definition video will increasingly look to cable, satellite, and Internet protocol television (IPTV) offerings.

“If they want that HD experience and content, they’re going to look beyond DVDs,” he said. “It will accelerate the online distribution of digital video, whether it’s cable, satellite or whatever.”

Holding the Line

Forrester Vice President Ted Schadler told TechNewsWorld there are two likely scenarios concerning HP and its DVD format support: the company will either “hold the line” and continue to support Blu-ray; or it will switch to support for HD-DVD or both, resulting in “a divide in the industry.”

Schadler agreed if there are different formats for PCs and for DVD players, consumers will stay away from both.

“It’s going to keep people away and the longer the uncertainty stays, the longer consumers will stay away.”

Nevertheless, Schadler predicted HP will continue to support Blu-ray, which will likely be the industry’s preferred format in the end.

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