"There's always been a push for more capacity, going back to VHS, which started as a 2-hour format, then went to 4, 6, and 8 hours," he says. "DVD began as a single-layer format, then went to two layers, so that 80% of movies being released now are dual-layer discs. Blu-ray has 60% more capacity than HD DVD."
But Midori Suzuki, a spokeswoman for Toshiba in Japan, points out that HD DVD is the only high-def disc to have been approved by the DVD Forum. And the format has been fully investigated by the Forum's 80-company technology working group, she says. "From this perspective, we don't accept that Blu-ray has greater support."
Suzuki also dismisses Blu-ray's greater storage capacity, arguing, "A 30-GB HD DVD disc can hold more than 8 hours of high-def images, enough for three 2 1/2 -hour movies, or one movie with a lot of bonus content. We're not interested in getting involved in a 'the larger the better' discussion. We're more concerned with delivering a format that balances market needs and technical practicality with capacity, cost, and backward compatibility with DVD."
Although not exactly a disinterested party - his company, Lieberfarb and Associates, is a senior advisor to Toshiba in its HD DVD efforts - former Warner Home Video chief Warren Lieberfarb believes HD DVD's close similarity to DVD is important to Hollywood. "HD DVD and Blu-ray offer many of the same functions," says Lieberfarb, "with one significant difference: Blu-ray requires retooling the manufacturing process, so the depreciation burden will always be greater there than it is for HD DVD."
Strangely, one of HD DVD's biggest advantages - being able to have a high-def version of a movie on one side and a DVD version on the other - is rarely mentioned. This option is attractive to retailers, since they can have both versions without separate packaging.
Retailers would of course like to see the industry rally around a single format, whether it's Blu-ray or HD DVD. Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson has said that his company will use its considerable clout to promote a single industry standard.
The Battle BeginsStill, experts believe the format war will take a while to play out. "Although studio support for HD DVD gives it a boost, those studios represent about 45% of the DVD business, so they haven't reached critical mass," says Richard Doherty, director of the Envisioneering marketing research firm.
Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at the In-Stat/MDR research firm, says: "Hollywood is going to determine which movies are available, and then the public will decide what to do based on what they can buy. If you're a consumer and you see that 75% of the studios are supporting one format while only 25% are supporting the other, you'll either do nothing or buy the one with the stronger support." Abraham believes that if both camps launch products, it could take up to five years to determine a winner.
No matter what happens, it's all but inevitable that within the year we'll see discs that provide images rivaling the best HDTV broadcasts. The format war could get ugly, but it's not going to quash this latest leap in video technology. So while there might be some losers, everyone who cares about watching great-looking movies will be a winner.
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