Possible end to format war raises questions

The end of the next-generation optical format war appears to be in sight, but is this good or bad news for consumers?

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  February 18, 2008

The writing is on the wall. The long format-fight between the two next-generation optical standards, HD DVD and Blu-ray seems almost at an end, with Blu-ray sitting pretty.

The straw that will break the proverbial camel's back is if Toshiba, the last key supporter of HD DVD, announces that it too will be dropping support for the standard (a decision that numerous industry sources are, as of today, saying is imminent).

This decision would, if confirmed, come just weeks after Warner Brothers and Paramount surprised many tech-heads by announcing its future film media would only support Blu-ray.

So, if this occurs, how will the potential end of HD DVD affect us consumers?

Like most things technology-related, there are both positives and negatives for the end user. From a positive point of view, a single format that is accepted by the industry as a whole is great for consumers, because it reduces the investment we need to make.

This time last year, movie studios each chose which format - either HD DVD or Blu-ray - they wanted to release their content on. This meant consumers had to buy two individual players - one for each format - or a single, more expensive hybrid drive that worked with both, if they wanted to be able to play content from all these studios. Now though, with all the studios likely to get behind one format, consumers will no longer have this problem; all the content should be released on Blu-ray, no matter the studio behind it.

Another reason consumers will have less of an investment to make is because the cost of the players and the media could drop. Whereas before, manufacturers were divided between producing either HD DVD or Blu-ray discs and players, everyone could now only have worry about producing Blu-ray - since it would be the universally accepted format. This ultimately means more choice and competition on the market as manufacturers compete fiercely to win your cash.

From a convenience standpoint, you would benefit again because shopping for HD content in stores would be less of a chore. In Dubai for example, if you had wanted a HD DVD movie you'd have been out of luck if you tried stores like Virgin Megastores - because they only stock Blu-ray discs. (The same story is true around the world; in the US for instance WalMart only stocked DVD and HD DVD discs - until last week - meaning consumers had to go elsewhere for their Blu-ray fix.)

The pace at which Blu-ray itself advances in terms of media capacities and read/write performance speeds could also increase because there would be more companies spending their Research and Development (R&D) time and money on developing just the one format.

On the flip side of the coin however, Blu-ray becoming the defacto HD optical standard is bad news for early adopters like myself who've already invested in HD DVD hardware and discs. You see while the discs and hardware we already own will still function, they will be of little use in future as no new content will be released for them, making the discs and hardware expensive mementos of yet another format war.

More worryingly, there is the potential for a price hike on Blu-ray hardware and content. Whereas the companies backing the technology, in terms of the hardware and media, previously took major financial hits whilst selling their products at a loss - to persuade users away from HD DVD - they'd no longer have to do this. This could mean that both the media and the hardware could shoot up in price as Blu-ray monopolises the next-generation optical market.

Format conflicts like this one, and VHS-vs-Betamax in the past, do ultimately resolve themselves, as we're seeing at present, but sadly it's at the cost of consumers' time and money. In future, let's hope industry leaders actually get better at working together from the start when it comes to things like storage standards. (I hope they're listening because I'm fed up of collecting mementos...)

3585 days ago
Hadi

That is the problem with rushing into any new stupid things that comes into market! also a little thinking would have told you that blu-ray is gonna win. any ways I'm not gonna buy any until the prices come really down.

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