Format Wars: Dual Discs and Dual Players

January 4, 2007

Blu-ray & HD DVDWow, what a difference a day makes. Before the first visitor to this year’s Consumer Electronics Show even hit the show-floor, we’ve had two significant announcements in the format war. Today, yesterday I suppose for you west-coasters, LG announced a dual-format HD player and shortly thereafter Warner Bros. announced that they would indeed go ahead with plans for their dual-format (Total HD) discs.

Where to begin… I suppose with LG and their dual-format player. While details such as pricing, feature-set, and availability, won’t be discussed until CES officially gets underway, the very announcement of the player puts the 1k plus stand-alone player market under the microscope. Think about it, even if this player retails for $1200, $1400 or even $1600 (I fully expect it to be priced at a premium) it offers assurance no single-format player can match. I think a certain segment of consumers will embrace this option, even if they have to pay a premium to do so.

Unfortunately a dual-format player is only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Specifically the fact that even though one player can play two formats, we’ll still have two formats and until dual-format players reach everyday price points, their acceptance will be limited. Enter Warner Brothers with their “Total HD” disc.

Not much is known about the Total HD disc from Warner other than initially it will contain the Blu-ray and HD DVD version of the film and eventually, maybe, even its DVD counterpart as well. We can expect the Total HD discs to sell for “several more dollars” than current Blu-ray and HD DVD titles but I’d be willing to bet some, if not most consumers would be willing to spend a dollar or two more for that assurance.

But yet again even with the “Total HD” discs we’re faced with another compromised solution to a single format, but in all honesty the solutions provided by LG and Warner may make the difference between one or both of the formats making it at all; versus dying a slow painful death at the unimpressed hands of the average consumer. Choice is good, choice means consumers have power, preference, and say in how they spend their entertainment dollars.

Am I happy or even excited by this news? To be honest, not really. I (like many others I assume) would have preferred one format from day-one but since that obviously didn’t happen this may very well be the next best thing. The very fact that LG and Warner Bros. are willing to invest in dual-format support likely means they foresee this dragging out for a year to two years minimum. At least now options exist for those interested in one of the two competing formats, but thus far were unwilling to invest in a potential door-stop.

Kudos to LG and Warner; make no mistake while these announcements may indeed ultimately prolong the format war. If the respective companies didn’t foresee consumer interest in these solutions, they wouldn’t bring them to market; i.e. if one format was showing signs of annihilating the other anytime soon, why not just wait it out? Like it or not we’re now into the long-term strategy phase of this. I think its pretty safe to assume the quick and decisive victory planned by the Blu-ray partners after the PS3’s launch is appearing less and less likely, especially with a here-unto now exclusive Blu-ray partner (LG) effectively blinking first.

So in essence Toshiba and HD DVD may have already won as long as you define winning as not losing. But in all seriousness the real winners here may be the studios, specifically Warner Bros. If the Total HD discs are widely adopted, the studios may find themselves regaining a bit of control and profitability over how their content is delivered to the masses. With a studio owning a major content delivery patent, the CE manufacturers may find themselves a bit more hesitant to offer two competing formats to the public again, at least we can hope.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray, HD-DVD


Comments

  • B.Greenway

    haha Kevin, I got a laugh out of picturing that scenario. No worries however, the individual versions are on the opposite sides of the disc (it’s a flipper) so technically it wont be possible to put both versions in at the same time.

  • B.Greenway

    haha Kevin, I got a laugh out of picturing that scenario. No worries however, the individual versions are on the opposite sides of the disc (it’s a flipper) so technically it wont be possible to put both versions in at the same time.

  • Kevin M.

    What happens when you put a dual format disc in a dual format player?

  • Kevin M.

    What happens when you put a dual format disc in a dual format player?

  • Hoyty

    The one problem I see long term is Sony cannot afford to let Blu-Ray die due to the PS3. Blu-Ray is now forever linked to the lifetime of the PS3 and future backwards compatibility. For this reason alone I think Blu-Ray will live on for a long time if nothing more than a data format. However just as Sony continues to put out UMD movies I think they will continue to put out Blu-Ray movies as long as the PS3 is still a viable platform. So far I much prefer the features of HD-DVD, but I fear this battle will be very long.

  • Hoyty

    The one problem I see long term is Sony cannot afford to let Blu-Ray die due to the PS3. Blu-Ray is now forever linked to the lifetime of the PS3 and future backwards compatibility. For this reason alone I think Blu-Ray will live on for a long time if nothing more than a data format. However just as Sony continues to put out UMD movies I think they will continue to put out Blu-Ray movies as long as the PS3 is still a viable platform. So far I much prefer the features of HD-DVD, but I fear this battle will be very long.

  • Mike W.

    If *all* movies were available on Total HD and you buy a dual-format player, then you’re immune to the format wars, so long as one of the formats wins. But it’s very possible *neither* will win, and some studios (especially Sony) will stick with their format only. So they continue to put consumers in a position to lose a big investment (I’m speaking more of the software, since I expect the hardware to become obsolete). And so I keep buying DVDs.

    Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    If *all* movies were available on Total HD and you buy a dual-format player, then you’re immune to the format wars, so long as one of the formats wins. But it’s very possible *neither* will win, and some studios (especially Sony) will stick with their format only. So they continue to put consumers in a position to lose a big investment (I’m speaking more of the software, since I expect the hardware to become obsolete). And so I keep buying DVDs.

    Sigh.