Hooray for Hollywood?With both camps enjoying some Hollywood support, there are several ways the format war could end. Both formats could launch, and the market would decide which one survives. Or the formats could coexist until it becomes cheap enough to make players that handle both, as happened with DVD-Audio discs and SACDs. A less likely outcome is that people will prefer one format for watching movies and the other for storing computer files. And it's always possible that the camps will reach a compromise - for instance, by agreeing to set up a revenue pool or by having the "winning" format adopt some of the technology used in the "losing" format. But with each side so deeply entrenched and the formats so different, that doesn't seem likely.
While having four studios announce their support for HD DVD gave that format a big boost, it's too early to tell how the war will play out, particularly since the studios' backing isn't exclusive. Sony Pictures has committed to having Blu-ray movies available by the end of the year. And 20th Century Fox's decision to join the Blu-ray camp has been viewed as a precursor to more active support of the format.
Sony Pictures remains resolute in its commitment to Blu-ray. "The Blu-ray Disc Association and the combined strength of its activities - including the adoption of Blu-ray for the PS 3 platform - will generate a huge demand for high-def movies," says Sony Pictures president Ben Feingold. "We look forward to having prerecorded titles available as part of the highly anticipated U.S. launch of Blu-ray Disc."
But HD DVD also has powerful allies in New Line (and its sister company, HBO), Paramount, Universal, and especially Warner Bros., which was the biggest early supporter of DVD and Toshiba's strongest partner in developing DVD. While all of these studios would probably support Blu-ray if people embrace that format, there's a strong desire in Hollywood for one format. "It will be a real shame if there are two," says Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau. "We have no plans to release products for Blu-ray. Our focus and priority is with HD DVD."
But Andy Parsons, Senior VP of Advanced Product Marketing at Pioneer Electronics and a Blu-ray spokesman, cautions that too much shouldn't be read into studio support for HD DVD. "This isn't a death knell for Blu-ray. We're still almost a year away from products entering the U.S., and all but three major consumer-electronics manufacturers are backing Blu-ray. All the announcement means is that we have to work even closer with Hollywood."
There are still studios on the sidelines that could tilt the balance, including DreamWorks and Lion's Gate. All are reportedly being wooed with financial incentives ranging from cash payments to reductions in royalty fees.
Handicapping the RaceBlu-ray's larger capacity and broad manufacturer support make it the early frontrunner. "The number of companies supporting Blu-ray will go a long way toward making sure that the format is successfully launched worldwide," says Parsons. He thinks disc capacity will be a key issue.
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