Next-Gen DVD Fight Is On

The arrival of new high-definition DVD players in the U.S. market this week means the fight between HD-DVD and the competing Blu-ray format is officially underway.

Both look to improve image quality with high-definition video and broaden the capacity of DVDs for the next generation of movie and video game discs.

However, the duel hearkens back to the confusion and consumer turnoff that resulted from the beta versus VHS videocassette battle of 20 years ago, and price-conscious consumers are unlikely to commit to a format before the matter is settled.

Hard Sell

HD-DVD players from Toshiba, along with some HD movie titles to go with them, went on sale in the U.S. this week. Blu-ray players and discs are expected to hit shelves next month. However, most consumers are unlikely to invest in a purchase unless they are confident the player and media for it will be supported.

“It’s minimal,” Gartner Research Vice President Van Baker told TechNewsWorld, regarding releases of HD-DVD and Blu-ray technology and compatible media products. “There’s no content — and without content, you’ve got a high-priced player you can’t watch anything on.”

While a new high-def DVD player would play today’s discs, it would not be an experience worth the expense, since those discs would not be high-def, he explained.

“It’s a battle to see who can get the content to their platform,” said Baker. “Nobody’s going to buy these things. Ultimately, technology advances, but it’s in fits and starts — and there’s been many a technology that has never caught on in the market.”

Other Competition

The next-gen DVD formats will not only be competing against one another, but also against video on demand and digital video recorder services provided via cable, satellite or the Internet, Baker added.

“The majority of content out there is watch once, throw it away,” he said, referring to single-use sales of video and other digital media. “We’ve got lots of different alternatives,” he said. “It’s just a question of which one will emerge as the prevalent one.”

The winning technology will be determined by the availability of high-definition content, Baker stressed, and will be helped along by new flat panel televisions that leverage high-definition quality.

“As it stands now, it’s going to take awhile for stuff to converge,” he said.

Game On

Another important factor in the DVD format fight is the gaming console, which looks now as if it favors Blu-ray with Sony’s upcoming Playstation 3 release, but may be countered by an HD-DVD drive from Microsoft for its Xbox 360.

However, consumer confusion over the different DVD formats is likely to continue, and may be perpetuated by different format support from hardware vendors looking to hedge their bets, JupiterResearch Vice President Michael Gartenberg told TechNewsWorld.

Content will be key. The winner of the format fight will be the first to market with the best content that creates a center of gravity for high-definition video, Gartenberg predicts.

“As much as everyone wants consistency, it’s just not happening,” he said.

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