When Warner Bros. announced in early January that it was pulling the plug on the release of HD DVD discs and going solely with Blu-ray, everyone could read the writing on the wall without even squinting. Last week, speculation ended completely when Toshiba, the prime inventor, caved in and waved the white flag, announcing that it would stop making HD DVD players. Now that manufacturers are done playing war games, what is the fallout for us consumers?
Unscrewing the Early Adopters
About 1 million-plus folks invested in an assortment of HD DVD equipment: Xbox 360 drives, PC hard drives, and standalone players. What happens to them? One of Japan’s biggest retailers, Edion
, is offering store credit if you bring back your HD DVD player and buy a Blu-ray player, only charging the difference. HDSCape, manufacturer of HD DVD screensavers is offering an upgrade plan to switch to Blu-ray
. Both of these are small consolations for anyone who bought into HD DVD early on, particularly if they have shelves full of HD DVDs. The original players were expensive, and quite an investment for people who are now facing almost immediate withdrawal symptoms as their supply of new HD DVD titles starts drying up.
Games People Play
Microsoft had a big dog in this fight, and obviously, will be scrambling to spin this to its advantage. The Xbox 360 can play HD DVD movies with the use of an external drive, but Microsoft will immediately stop production of it, while still supporting those already out there. In an attempt to entice new users, they’re looking to expand in other ways, such as opening game development to their user community
and partnering with YouTube in an attempt to stay afloat after the demise of the HD DVD factor. Before Toshiba’s announcement, Microsoft had conceded that they will consider supporting Blu-ray should consumers want it. Looks like consumers will want it pretty soon; gamers will have to see what Microsoft does. That’s just super, but when will Xboxers have the same abilities as the PS3 crowd, who have had Blu-ray playback from the start?
What’s in It for Me?
I was one of the great majority of consumers who wisely chose to wait out this format war. I put up with a barely breathing DVD player, hoping it would hold on until the war was over. I put up with skipping DVDs and a no-longer-functioning CD playback because I didn’t want to be caught in the wrong camp. By waiting for a winner, did I gain anything?
It doesn’t look like prices of Blu-ray gear will be falling anytime soon. In fact, now that it’s a one-format market, manufacturers can charge whatever they want for players, and studios have no reason to cut prices to woo consumers to their format. Plus, I have to wonder about the future of Blu-ray overall. Just as music downloads killed off the CD, movie downloads are already starting to impact DVD sales, leading to a decline in DVD sales. If people are choosing downloads over DVD, is there any reason to think that BD’s higher picture quality will lure them back to disc playback? BD might have won the disc-format skirmish, in a war where discs are losing ground to downloads.
As of Monday, February 25, 2008, stores are still selling HD DVD players. In fact, one of the big-box retailers is offering special deals with five free HD DVD movies included in your purchase of a player. Of course, no mention that after those five movies, good luck finding new releases. Other savvy retailers are re-marketing the now-obsolete HD DVD players as “HDMI DVD Upscalers,” with the added benefit of playing those now-obsolete DVDs. Are you kidding me?
Doing the Victory Dance
Now that a clear winner has been revealed, and there is no longer a question about which format will move into the future, you have to wonder if it was worth it. Should the industry have settled this before consumers were
convinced to buy one format over the other? How do you feel now that the dust has cleared off the battlefield? Is competition a good thing? Or is a single format, like what happened with DVD, the key to advancing the technology? Or is it all meaningless, because downloads will rule anyway? The comment field awaits.