Last month I pointed out that Gizmodo declared the HD-DVD wars over with Blu-Ray victorious due to better studio support. This week, four major studios lined up behind HD-DVD. With Sony and Columbia firmly behind Blu-Ray, this is shaping up to be an interesting format war.
Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits suggests that a format war is better than the situation we had at the launch of DVD - where nobody other than Warner was promising to support the format. He goes on to say that if hardware vendors provide universal players, actual format could be irrelevant.
In the long run, sure, but what a waste! Dueling marketing dollars, more expensive players, and consumer confusion mean slower uptake. Plus, it's possible that consumers simply tune out format wars at this point - as evidenced by DVD-A vs SACD (more on this later).
Michael Gartenberg over at JupiterResearch points out that first-to-market advantage is overrated - early adopters will buy whatever is available - and it's the mainstream consumer you need to worry about.
True - and the existence of JVC's tape-based D-Theater proves that the earliest adopters will do anything to advance the state of prerecorded HD - but I'd take this a step further: these formats have a lot to prove even without a format war.
Nobody has shown me evidence that mass market consumers actually want higher resolution discs:
- Even if you have a really large and high quality display, well encoded anamorphic 480p DVDs are acceptable, and on anything less, HD doesn't offer a dramatic improvement.
- DVDs are now selling as impulse buys in supermarkets. Will consumers be willing to pay more for HD discs (to justify higher manufacturing and mastering costs)?
- Sure, some Star Wars fans will buy the Holy Trilogy again for the fifth time in higher resolution. But what about regular titles, and regular consumers?
- Will stores be willing to stock additional SKUs to accomodate HD discs in addition to regular DVDs?
- Finally, will something else come along while consumers are waiting for the format wars to resolve themselves? Even assuming that demand will materialize, how long is the window to ramp up mainstream HD-DVD/Blu-ray going to be open? DVD-Audio and SACD were done in at least as much by the MP3/iPod distraction as anything else. Wait too long, and you give broadband/hard drive solutions a chance, or perhaps Kaleidescape to become affordable.