Blu-ray vs HD DVD: final bonus round

Content is kingWarner Brothers decision to abandon HD DVD is the confirmation - for those who needed it - that Blu-ray has indeed won the battle for dominant high-def video format. Now only General Electric Co.

Content is king Warner Brothers decision to abandon HD DVD is the confirmation - for those who needed it - that Blu-ray has indeed won the battle for dominant high-def video format. Now only General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures and Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures support HD DVD.

Warner owns one of the biggest movie libraries in Hollywood. Along with Warner Bros., most other major studios - Sony Corp., Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox - are committed to Blu-ray exclusively.

Hollywood wants to end this thing DVD sales have weakened and Hollywood suspects the HD format war is part of the problem. While Sony has provided Blu-ray promo dollars to Warners, the Wall Street Journal quoted Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer saying "This wasn't a bidding contest."

Blu-ray disks dominate sales in the rest of the world but the race was closer here in the US. In June I called Blu-ray the winner (see Blu-ray vs HD DVD: game over) and many scoffed.

The market trends were unmistakable: broader studio support; higher disk sales and rentals; more available titles. Yet Toshiba kept pushing despite the negative omens.

Who wins? Short answer: us consumers. As I noted last year

The biggest loser in this is Toshiba. They’ve put a lot of time and money behind HD DVD. Microsoft is also a loser, partly as a supporter and partly because their add-on Xbox HD DVD player sales will tank. The folks who bought one can’t be feeling too good about Microsoft’s judgement.

It is less clear how big a win for Sony this will really be. Why? Because HD picture quality doesn't - yet - justify upgrading a DVD collection with the new format.

Toshiba still has an opportunity: better Blu-ray players A new 50" Panasonic plasma HDTV with a new Sony BD-S301 Blu-ray player sits in the living room of Chez Mojo. The plasma is fabulous. The Sony Blu-ray player, not so much.

It takes about a minute to boot up Linux - longer than my notebook computer. Once a disk is on the tray, pushing Play doesn't close the drive. Physically pushing the tray is required. Loading the disk takes another 10 seconds. It has no memory for which disks have been recently played, so the FBI and Interpol warnings run every time a movie is loaded. This baby really cre-e-eps.

Blu-ray vs SD DVD picture But the picture is what you came to see, and the player doesn't disappoint. A recent high-quality DVD, like the Superbit version of The Fifth Element, gets a superb up-convert to HD. The really fine detail of a Blu-ray disk isn't there - it never was - but for this non-videophile the difference between this and the Blu-ray version of Live Free or Die Hard was small. I won't be buying a Blu-ray Fifth Element any time soon.

Older DVDs like the original Lethal Weapon can have a lot of film grain, but that isn't the player's fault. The added size and resolution makes source defects more obvious. Reviews of Blu-ray disks will tell you if the picture quality is compromised by source problems. If it is you'll be just as happy with the DVD version.

The Storage Bits take I expected Hollywood to dither longer while taking Toshiba and Sony for costly ride. Warner's early decision speaks to Hollywood's unhappiness with DVD sales.

While it will take a few months for Warner's decision to increase the supply of Blu-ray content, Toshiba should retire gracefully from the field of battle, cut its losses, and look at building the best Blu-ray players.

Sony has laid to rest the ghost of the Betamax failure. Now they need to do everything they can to ensure that Blu-ray is worth the money they are asking consumers to spend on it.

Comments welcome, as always.


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