Blu-ray Wins the High-Def Format War But Does Anyone Care?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – June 2008)

In my previous article about the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD war last year, I described the stunning quality of both formats and how either was an excellent successor to standard DVD.

At the time, both formats were battling for supremacy – essentially Sony (Blu-Ray) vs. Toshiba (HD-DVD). The key to winning was the support of the movie studios which provide the movie content. Blu-Ray had the majority of the studios, but their hardware was significantly more expensive than HD-DVD players, and HD-DVD had other significant advantages.

None of this mattered anymore of course, once Warner Brothers announced in January 2008 that they would stop supporting HD-DVD after May 2008 — this would mean Blu-Ray had the support of 75% of the movie studios while HD-DVD would be left with only 25% . The stunning announcement blind-sided Toshiba and resulted in the cancellation of the planned release of their latest HD-DVD models, in order to give the company time to regroup. But the writing was now on the wall – how long could HD-DVD survive? The result was an announcement within weeks that Toshiba would stop production of all HD-DVD products. Sony and Blu-Ray won the war. No one predicted it would be over so soon.

The Internet was a buzz with news sources and blogs touting that the future of High-def was now clear – and consumers were set to benefit. With only one format to choose from, consumers would now have nothing holding them back from upgrading to the next generation of video.

But the expected surge in Blu-Ray sales has not materialized. In fact, following the Warner Brothers announcement, even though Blu-Ray was declared the winner, sales of stand-alone Blu-Ray players actually decreased by 40% from January to February followed by a slight increase of 2% between February and March.

So what of the anticipated rush of new consumers? Well it turns out that most consumers think that standard DVD is still good enough, and see no compelling reason to upgrade to High-Def at this time. More and more consumers are buying up-converting DVD players, which play regular DVD’s and “upgrade” the resolution from standard 480i to a 1080i HD resolution. In my experience the improvement isn’t impressive, but it is noticeable.

Another factor in Blu-Ray’s slow uptake could be the price. Since its declared win, the price of stand alone Blu-Ray players have actually increased. With no competition, perhaps the Blu-Ray camp is no longer in any rush to lower prices. With players starting at about $399, I still think High-Def is a niche market for audiophiles and early adopters. But once we see prices down around $200, the masses are more likely to jump on board. As always, you still need an HDTV to notice the benefits – this means splurging for a nice big LCD or Plasma TV.

In my previous article I had suggested that for anyone wanting to upgrade to HD while minimizing their risk, they should stick to the Xbox 360 with HD-DVD attachment or the Sony PS3 with built in Blu-Ray. I had both and was happy with either. Although I had been rooting for HD-DVD to win, I am ok with how things ended – in fact I have been picking up my favorite movies in HD-DVD on clearance racks for about $10 compared to the same Blu-Ray versions which sell for $28-40 each.

In case you are wondering which models are the best, the PS3 is still the best Blu-Ray player on the market, as it is currently the only Blu-Ray player to support the new 2.0 standard – which brings picture-in-picture and online functionality to Blu-ray discs (two things HD-DVD had from the start). Therefore I still highly recommend the PS3 as your Blu-Ray player of choice – especially if you are looking for a next-gen console to boot!

So now that the future has been decided, do yourself a favour and take your video viewing to the next level. If you have or are planning to purchase a new HDTV, I highly recommend moving up to Blu-Ray – you won’t be disappointed!

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