That makes the recent announcements by Warner Bros., New Line, Paramount, and Universal that they would back the HD DVD format particularly intriguing - and at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early in January, they further announced specific titles they would release by fall. Paramount announced 20 HD DVD titles, Warner Home Video 50 titles, New Line Cinema 10 titles, and Universal 3 titles. In addition, HBO, which recently joined the HD DVD camp, announced that The Sopranos and Angels in America - among its most acclaimed productions - would be available.
Blu-ray has the support of Sony Pictures, which owns both MGM and Columbia TriStar, and of Disney. The Blu-ray camp also hopes to add 20th Century Fox, which has joined the Blu-ray Disc Association board, to its list of supporters. As of mid-January , none of the parties have blinked, and there are no signs of a quick resolution. So a particularly nasty format war now seems more likely than ever.
What's Wrong with DVD?DVD has been around for only eight years, so you might be wondering why we're even talking about its successor. But those of us who want to buy, rent, or record movies that have the same lifelike high-def images as HDTV can't wait for the new discs to appear. DVDs just don't have the storage capacity to hold a high-def movie - plus all the bonus features we've come to expect - on a single 5-inch disc.
While attention is being focused on being able to watch movies in high-def, HD DVD and Blu-ray aren't one-trick ponies. Their high storage capacity allows for a lot of interactivity, including the ability to create your own version of a movie by selecting alternative scenes at key points in the story. And because both HD DVD and Blu-ray allow for recording, you can use them not only to save movies and TV shows, but also to store computer files.
The looming format war could overshadow many of those advantages, though. And many expect that the war will look less like the behind-the-scenes clash of technologies that resulted in the DVD than the public death struggle between VHS and Betamax .
Who's Got the Muscle?While Blu-ray has made capacity its big selling point, the HD DVD camp has put the emphasis on making the transition from DVD to HD DVD as painless - and inexpensive - as possible. Last summer, Memory-Tech, one of Japan's largest disc makers, showed a production line that it said could turn out HD DVDs almost as fast as DVDs and for just 10% more. Cinram, a large U.S. disc replicator, believes it can make them for slightly more than the cost of DVDs.
But less expensive production doesn't necessarily translate into cheaper disc prices. While HD DVD supporters say their prerecorded discs will sell for about $10 more than current DVDs, no one in the Blu-ray camp has speculated on what its discs will sell for. This leaves open the possibility that Blu-ray discs could be sold at the same price as HD DVDs despite the more expensive manufacturing, with the companies eating the losses early on.
Another crucial difference between the formats is their supporting companies. While Blu-ray is backed by a laundry list of heavyweights, the HD DVD camp has the powerful DVD Forum, which oversees the DVD standard and comprises more than 230 consumer-electronics and entertainment companies. Also, Microsoft's next Windows operating system, called Longhorn, will support HD DVD. Blu-ray counters that almost all of its companies are also members of the DVD Forum and that the format war might be settled by the time Longhorn comes out.
While Sony and Matsushita (Panasonic) are already selling Blu-ray recorders in Japan for about $2,500, Toshiba and Sanyo won't have HD DVD products out until late this year. But Toshiba has said that it could begin producing prerecorded HD DVDs as early as March. And while Sony has pledged to have a Blu-ray drive in its PlayStation 3 game console, due in mid-2006, Toshiba and NEC have been lobbying Microsoft to include HD DVD in the Xbox 2 console, which is slated to arrive at the end of 2005.
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