Thursday, November 16, 2006
Big Names Hold Out In HD-DVD/Blu-ray Format War
There are some new developments in the war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray HDTV DVD formats. Actually it seems like every time you turn around there is a new development in this battle. It really all started with the realization that since standard DVD's can't hold enough data to support the wider screen and higher resolution that are part of the High Definition television format, the electronics industry had to come up with a new video disc format that could. The answer was to use blue violet lasers to encode the data onto the discs and read it back off of the discs. Since blue violet lasers have shorter wavelengths than the red lasers that are used on standard DVD's they can pack data onto a disk more densely. The problem with this came about when Sony introduced the Blu-ray format and Toshiba introduced the HD-DVD format. Although both discs use blue violet lasers there are a number of more subtle differences between the two that make them incompatible. Further complicating the issue, a variety of big names in the electronics industry, the movie industry, and the software industry have thrown their support behind one or the other of the formats. It's generally agreed that only one format will survive, but too many powerful companies have too much invested in one format or another to back down.
The result of all of this has been a cool reception from consumers. Many consumers remember the VHS/ Betamax format war back in the eighties. Back then everyone wanted a VCR and the people who choose the wrong format were stuck with a useless machine when VHS came out on top. Now, though there are a lot of people who would like to buy a DVD player capable of playing High Definition video content, most are holding out in order to see which format will come out on top so they aren't left with the Betamax of the twenty first century.
Another example example of how this could be an annoyance to consumers can be seen by the fact that most of the major computer manufacturers support the Blu-ray format while Microsoft supports the HD-DVD format. So now we're in the somewhat ridiculous position where we may be purchasing a Sony or Dell computer with a Blu-ray disc drive which runs an operating system made by Microsoft with built in software that supports HD-DVD. There will probably be software patches, but the entire situation doesn't inspire confidence among consumers.
A number of fixes to for this problem have been presented. For example, marketing a DVD player that could play both formats would break the stalemate because consumers would buy the device in droves along with movie and software titles in both formats. Unfortunately while that should be technically possible the electronics manufacturers are holding out along with everyone else.
Someone recently filed a patent for a manufacturing technique that could put both formats in different layers of a disc, so any given title could appear in both formats on the same disc. The CEO of NetFlix recently predicted that studios will eventually release movie titles in both formats which would also end the war. But the President of Universal Studios has already declared victory for the HD-DVD format, and if his views are at all common in Hollywood the option of releasing HDTV DVD's in both formats, whether on the same disc or separate discs, won't fly among studios.
So it seems that while the market for these technologies languishes and consumers grow increasingly frustrated, the big names in electronics, software, and movies will continue to hold out in hopes that their format will be the winner.