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The Digital Bits sides with Blu-Ray

Old 02-20-07, 11:31 AM
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The Digital Bits sides with Blu-Ray

Part One:

Finally today, I'm tickled to learn that I'm not the only media analyst that's earned the ire of a select group of... shall we say, passionate?... early adopters on the Net. CNet executive editor David Carnoy has apparently been flamed too by HD-DVD enthusiasts online for daring to suggest that HD-DVD may not have a rosy future. You can read his amusing editorial reaction here.

You know, the funny thing about all this is that I really like both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc just as video formats. They both deliver fantastic quality and features. But technically and quality-wise, this format war is basically a wash. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that if this battle is going to be decided by anything, it will be other factors. Like which studios support each format, which manufacturers support each format, what the software and hardware sales trends are, etc. And in each of those areas, Blu-ray has developed a clear edge.

Let's look at these simple facts: Of the 12 major and mini-major Hollywood studios (Fox, Disney, MGM, Sony, Lionsgate, Paramount, New Line, HBO, Warner Bros, Universal, DreamWorks and The Weinstein Company) 9 support Blu-ray, 5 of them exclusively. Only 6 support HD-DVD, just 2 of them exclusively (one studio, DreamWorks, remains uncommitted). Not counting computer hardware or budget brands, Blu-ray Disc has 9 major set-top hardware manufacturers behind it (Sony, Pioneer, Samsung, Philips, Panasonic, LG, Mitsubishi, Thomson, Sharp), while HD-DVD boasts just two (Toshiba and now LG). HD-DVD is an add-on to Microsoft's Xbox 360, while Blu-ray is built into EVERY Sony PlayStation 3. Nielsen VideoScan is reporting that in software sales, Blu-ray has virtually erased the sales lead enjoyed by HD-DVD since the formats were launched, and is now outselling HD-DVD by a 2 to 1 (and growing) margin.

I can understand that some people just love HD-DVD and have had great experiences with it. We have too. I understand that some people hate Sony for perceived corporate arrogance. I'm not a big fan of their tactics either, particularly how they went around the DVD Forum to develop their format. But let's face it - the biggest corporate cheerleader for HD-DVD seems to be Microsoft, which isn't exactly comforting either. All of those issues aside, however, how do you argue with the facts that are clearly becoming obvious - namely, ALL those things I just mentioned above? Frankly, the best sales pitch the HD-DVD camp seems to be able to make right now is: "Hey, we've got DVD right in the name! Plus cheap off-brand players are on the way! And porn!" I guess I have to be the guy who states the obvious, but doesn't that seem a little odd to anyone?

The cheap players thing is worth addressing here. The reality is, price sensitivity isn't an issue in the first year or so of any new format. It's mostly just the early adopters who are interested at that point anyway. By the time a wider consumer base is starting to get interested, 2nd and 3rd generation players have entered the market and they're inevitably cheaper. What surprised me most at CES is just how aggressively the HD-DVD camp seems to be trying to drive their format's hardware prices as low as possible by bringing off-brand Asian manufactures into their fold. The arrival of ultra-cheap $100 and $50 players in the DVD industry is what spelled the end of DVD hardware profitability for the major CE manufacturers. So why INVITE this situation before your format is even a year old? It makes no business sense that I can see, unless it's a desperation play - a last ditch effort not to lose.

I've also heard people cite universal players as the answer to having two formats. But the problem with universal players is that while they make life easier for early adopters, they do nothing to clear up the mass consumer (or mainstream media) perception of a format war, so those folks still remain on the sidelines. In addition to that, universal players tend to cost more, which again doesn't affect early adopters that much but is one more strike against adoption by consumers at large, who are price sensitive.

As for porn... I've addressed that issue in the past, and you saw the Newsweek story posted above. Unlike the situation back in the days of VHS versus Betamax, cheap porn is already available everywhere on DVD and online. Porn is not going to decide this format war.

As I've said before, I like both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc. They're both great - they both deliver the goods. But there just isn't room for TWO great formats. And at this point, I just don't see any likely circumstance in which HD-DVD can evolve into a viable mass market consumer video format. I certainly can't recommend in good conscience that Bits readers commit to HD-DVD right now. I tell most readers who ask me about the format war to just stick with DVD, and wait until it's all over. But if they're prepared to risk their money now, and are eager to do so, I have to tell them that Blu-ray is the better bet.

Frankly, I wish this format war had never happened. I am SO sick and tired of endlessly debating the merits of one of these formats versus the other. I'm tired of talking to reps for studios that are sitting on the fence or straddling both formats, who gamely spout the diplomatic company line about how great both formats are on the record, but off the record tell you how sick they all are of the situation and how much more hassle and headache it's caused them having to support THREE formats (including standard DVD). And I'm tired of watching early adopters backbiting each other at every turn. I'd rather just be talking about all the great films being released on disc in high-definition. I truly don't care which format wins, as long as one wins. But as long as there are two competing formats, we ALL lose. Period. The home video industry is not like videogaming. People do not have the patience for two or even three separate formats. They want to go to the store, buy a disc and know that it's going to work when they get home. It's that simple. They don't want to have to worry about having to buy the red box, or the blue box... or even the red AND blue box.

I'd hate for the high-definition video format war to have the same outcome as the high-resolution audio format war did. DVD-Audio versus SACD ended in a stalemate, and most people just stuck with CDs or moved to MP3 downloads. But mark my words, if the HD-DVD/Blu-ray war lingers on, that's exactly where we're headed. All you enthusiasts that have trenched in to support your particular format of choice come hell or high water had better enjoy the movies you're getting now, because if both formats fizzle out, forget about ever getting deep catalog, or older classics that cost money to restore for HD - money that would have come from software sales that aren't happening because too many people stubbornly stuck to their guns and the format war dragged out until nobody cared anymore. I think Stephen Colbert said it best when predicting the future of the HD format war: "The winner will be the one you DON'T buy." There could be a lot more "truthiness" in that statement than some want to believe.

For the good of the video industry as a whole, and for the benefit of film fans everywhere, this format war needs to end and SOON. So how long do we all have to wait before we start acknowledging the elephant in the room: One of these formats is already winning... and, for better or worse, it isn't HD-DVD.

Stay tuned...

Part Two

Well... as expected, I've received a flood of e-mails over the last day or so in response to my high-def format war comments of yesterday. And as expected, those who have firmly attached themselves to HD-DVD weren't terribly pleased with my arguments. The interesting thing, however, is that none of these people could logically refute my reasoning, and very few even attempted to do so. In fact, while some of the responses from HD-DVD supporters were polite and thoughtful, most were defensive, overly emotional or even downright hostile. A couple e-mails were so nasty that I can only wonder at the mental stability of their authors. All of this suggests to me that even these people are starting to suspect that the writing is on the wall for HD-DVD.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how many readers responded to say that they generally agreed with my assessment of the situation. And it wasn't just Blu-ray supporters who reacted positively. A surprising number of retailers and industry insiders expressed relief that we had finally said what they WANTED to say, but weren't in a position to do so. I was also struck by how many people that agreed with my comments said they hadn't yet adopted either format, instead having decided to remain neutral until a choice was more clear. But many of those folks told us that they were now close to jumping into the high-def arena, and Blu-ray was where they were headed. The responses as a whole were certainly fascinating, and they have done nothing but convince me further that this format war needs to end now, before the early adopter market gets even more fractious and divisive.

So what, or who, could end this format war? Simple: Universal. If Universal were to suddenly announce support for Blu-ray Disc in addition to HD-DVD, or if they were to adopt Warner's TotalHD combo disc, that would be the end of it. You would suddenly have every major studio in town releasing Blu-ray titles (except for DreamWorks, and our sources tell us that the studio is simply waiting for one of these formats to start selling serious numbers before getting involved). By the end of the year, cheaper second generation Blu-ray hardware will available, and that's the ballgame. That's not to say that Microsoft and Toshiba would stop pushing HD-DVD anytime soon. And I'm sure some of the HD-DVD supporting studios would continue releasing titles, at least for a while. But why would any average consumer want to buy an HD-DVD player, even a very cheap one, when you can't get Disney movies, you can't get Pixar films, you can't get the Bond films, you can't get the Spider-Man films, etc, etc, etc. Universal has the power to end this format war tomorrow. We certainly hope a lot of people, both inside the industry and film fans as a whole, are making efforts to POLITELY convince them to do so. Here's how:

Universal Studios Home Video
70 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 777-4400
Studio website - E-mail form on website

While we're on the subject, here's more evidence of Blu-ray's advantage: Blu-ray almost completely dominates the Japanese market now (click here for more on that), and has a clear edge in the Australian market as well (click here). In fact, one of Australia's leading consumer electronics retailers, JB Hi-Fi, has announced that they won't even carry HD-DVD in their stores (click here). Why? Because they, like many others, simply don't see how HD-DVD can overcome the overwhelming studio support behind Blu-ray Disc. JB's marketing director, Scott Browning, put his company's position this way: "We don't want to be selling $1000 clocks." Ouch. Any way you slice it, this whole format war situation is just getting silly.

By the way, for you HD-DVD fans out there who are running around online today claiming that I'm somehow getting paid to endorse Blu-ray (rather than coming to the rather obvious logical conclusion all on my own), I'll bet you this: If, in the next few months, the HD-DVD camp suddenly gets all those Blu-ray exclusive studios to start releasing titles on their format, and if all those electronics manufacturers who have released Blu-ray players start releasing HD-DVD or combo players too, I'll will happily and publicly revise my opinion. I'll even exclude Sony on both counts. But I'm betting it isn't going to happen.
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Old 02-20-07, 11:45 AM
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They have since day 1. But the facts can't be argued. Blu-ray's exclusive studio support is really showing now. The PS3 is helping somewhat and you can buy a player made by more than 1 manufacturer. The only reason I'm holding on to HD DVD is Universal's exclusive catalog. They have said they will remain exclusive this year and release 100 titles. I'm wondering how much pressure they are receiving from other studios to bolt over to BD and end the format war.
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Old 02-20-07, 12:16 PM
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Yeah....I don't "like" his conclusion, since if BD wins then I've "wasted" 400 bucks on an HDDVD player (and yes, I would consider it a waste, because if I had gone BD I would be on the "winning" side and still be able to upconvert {I think}) but I can't disagree with it.
I am honestly surprised the PS3 has driven as many software sales as it apparently has. (I wish there were a way to determine how many PS3s are set up 'correctly' to maximize HD benefits).
I also agree that "I wish this format war had never happened."
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Old 02-20-07, 12:18 PM
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Because of the PS3, I will probably end up buying one, but not in the near future. There is no hint of a price drop, and I won't pay $600 for a console. Even $500 is pushing it.
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Old 02-20-07, 12:23 PM
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This Variety article talks about the Universal shakeup:

http://www.variety.com/article/VR175...goryid=20&cs=1

This is my favorite quote out of that article:
"Kornblau’s chief marketing lieutenant, Ken Graffeo, will now focus on HD DVD, a big priority for the studio."
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Old 02-20-07, 12:29 PM
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". . . as long as there are two competing formats, we ALL lose. Period."


Right. May I state the obvious? Neither format would be in the position they are in currently had it not been for the competition between the two. If Blu-Ray hadn't been embarrassed early on, it is highly questionable that it would've improved as much as it has since its inception.
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Old 02-20-07, 12:37 PM
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This is true. But it's a balancing act. If there were only one format, the transition could be a lot easier; there would be less confusion and possibly more mainstream buy-in. But as you say, if there were only one format, odds are it would not be as 'good' in quality or A/V as either one is today, since it would not have had to compete.
I don't know where the line is, or which I would prefer. Actually, I would prefer a device with the hardware and software pricing of HDDVD, and the hardware and software support of BD. But realistically speaking, I don't know.
Like gpw, my entree into BD will probably be PS3, but that will be a couple years/price drops down the road. And, validly or not, I am feeling a little 'burned' and hesitant to drop another bunch of money on a tech toy, esp. an all-in-one device that may not be the best BD player, and that doesn't have a lot of games I'm interested in yet.
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Old 02-20-07, 01:00 PM
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Regarding the author's dismissal of cheap HD-DVD players as "making no business sense", I can't help but wonder the impact it would have if stores were to offer these players as incentives for buying HDTVs, just as they do with cheap up-converting DVD players today. I can certainly see that happening a lot sooner than giveaways of $1000 BD players . . .
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Old 02-20-07, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by applesandrice
". . . as long as there are two competing formats, we ALL lose. Period."


Right. May I state the obvious? Neither format would be in the position they are in currently had it not been for the competition between the two. If Blu-Ray hadn't been embarrassed early on, it is highly questionable that it would've improved as much as it has since its inception.
Perhaps. But let's not forget that it would still be competing against the largest market: DVD. If high definition did not look significantly better than an upscaled DVD, then the format would have no chance of taking off. So Bluray needed to have a good quality regardless of whether HD-DVD was a competitor.
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Old 02-20-07, 01:18 PM
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The Digital Bits sided with Blu-ray in 2005. This article is meaningless.

The 800 pound gorilla is DVD and neither HD DVD or Blu-ray have done anything to even dent its market share. I guess we will see what kind of traction Blu-ray and HD DVD can get this year, but it looks like SACD and DVD-A all over again.

Upscaled DVD may not really look as good as HD video, but many people don't seem to care and are happy with it on their HDTVs.
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Old 02-20-07, 01:23 PM
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Digital Bits sides with Blu-ray?! When did this happen??
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Old 02-20-07, 01:34 PM
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I have to agree with Digital Bits on this one. It seems like every commercial I hear for a new release movie says "availible on dvd and blu-ray disc." I haven't heard the same for hd dvd since FF:TD.

I just got a PS3 to go with my A1, so I'm safe either way. But, I would prefer one format.
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Old 02-20-07, 02:18 PM
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Hollywoodland's commercial said "DVD and HD DVD". I'm sure we'll see it on every day & date title from Universal the rest of the year.
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Old 02-20-07, 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Mr. Cinema
Hollywoodland's commercial said "DVD and HD DVD". I'm sure we'll see it on every day & date title from Universal the rest of the year.
Hopefully, the HV shakeup at Universal will help them see the error of their ways. And the "...will now focus on HD DVD, a big priority for the studio..." quote could have really meant High Def in general.
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Old 02-20-07, 05:45 PM
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They don't seem to have any Blu-Rays up for reviews though.
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Old 02-20-07, 09:33 PM
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Maybe if the Digital Bits had anywhere near the relevance that they used to, this would mean something. Now, it's just another two-bit blogger with an opinion and an asshole, just like so many before and after him.
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Old 02-20-07, 10:26 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD Josh
Maybe if the Digital Bits had anywhere near the relevance that they used to, this would mean something. Now, it's just another two-bit blogger with an opinion and an asshole, just like so many before and after him.
And why is that? Because he does not agree with your opinion? What is it about his opinion you do not agree with? Instead of taking uncalled for cheap shots against him, why not refute his post with your opinion?
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Old 02-21-07, 01:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Peep
Hopefully, the HV shakeup at Universal will help them see the error of their ways. And the "...will now focus on HD DVD, a big priority for the studio..." quote could have really meant High Def in general.
The error of their ways? Yeesh.
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Old 02-21-07, 02:23 AM
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The Digitalbits has always been relevant and one of the best sites to go for DVD, HD-DVD, and Bluray info. The previous posters rant shows how clearly he hates what Bill has said only because he is on the side of HD-DVD. What's clear is just how much you hate to see the obvious.
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Old 02-21-07, 03:10 AM
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That's funny, I think your post says a lot more about you than DVD Josh's post said anything about him.
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Old 02-21-07, 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Bcolon
And why is that? Because he does not agree with your opinion? What is it about his opinion you do not agree with? Instead of taking uncalled for cheap shots against him, why not refute his post with your opinion?
Originally Posted by theflyingdutch
The Digitalbits has always been relevant and one of the best sites to go for DVD, HD-DVD, and Bluray info. The previous posters rant shows how clearly he hates what Bill has said only because he is on the side of HD-DVD. What's clear is just how much you hate to see the obvious.
I'm pretty sure it's because Bill Hunt has been clearly biased from the get-go; he's favored Blu-ray since before it even came out. That stated, why should anyone looking for a neutral opinion take anything he says seriously? I know I sure as hell wouldn't. In fact, I'd look to a few of the posters around here to provide advice on which format in which to invest. But seeing as how I already own both, it doesn't matter.

Last edited by Vipper II; 02-21-07 at 06:00 AM.
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Old 02-21-07, 08:03 AM
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Who cares about Digital Bits? I want to see what Microsoft blogger Josh says about the format war here! That's what's important.
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Old 02-21-07, 08:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Bcolon
And why is that? Because he does not agree with your opinion? What is it about his opinion you do not agree with? Instead of taking uncalled for cheap shots against him, why not refute his post with your opinion?
Pfft. Bits has never been relevant. It has always been his opinion and half the time it is strange and silly. He doesn't do enough research to have top-notch opinions. Almost everything I have ever read there is based on marketing material rather than finding out real details. So agreeing with his opinion is the same as agreeing with mine, or yours. Meaningless.

It's just a blog, IMO. And always has been. It's fine for a blog and we can agree or not, but some people like to make him into some sort of industry mogul or insider, breaking big factual news. Hardly.
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Old 02-21-07, 08:19 AM
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I find myself more-or-less agreeing with the opinion. It doesn't look very good for HD-DVD at the moment: They still haven't picked up any more studio support. Blu-Ray is catching up to them in software sales. All of the major studios, except for Universal, are supporting Blu-Ray, a number of them exclusively. And Warners, with their THD discs, seems like they're admitting that HD-DVD is going to flop. Having both HD-DVD and BRD on the same disc seems like they're trying to gently say that it's okay to buy their HD-DVDs because when the format goes away you can flip the disc over and play it on your Blu-Ray player.

My major bone of contention with the 'bits editorial is that they write off combo players too quickly. I don't think that having competing software formats and universal players as the hardware standard would necessarily be a bad thing. I'm still quite leery of Blu-Ray, having been unimpressed with most of the demos I've seen. So I don't think it's a bad thing that Sony have some format competition to keep them from getting too lazy.
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Old 02-21-07, 08:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Spiky
Pfft. Bits has never been relevant. It has always been his opinion and half the time it is strange and silly. He doesn't do enough research to have top-notch opinions. Almost everything I have ever read there is based on marketing material rather than finding out real details. So agreeing with his opinion is the same as agreeing with mine, or yours. Meaningless.

It's just a blog, IMO. And always has been. It's fine for a blog and we can agree or not, but some people like to make him into some sort of industry mogul or insider, breaking big factual news. Hardly.
When was the last time you gave a rep from WB, Paramount, or any of the studios a call to find out information about a new release or company policy? Never. He talks to the studios, they talk to him, he is an insider. His blog is his opinion like any other type of editorial. He bases his opinion on facts. I still have not seen anyone debunk anything he said in his two posts as propaganda or even false. Just a lot of fanboy hate because they do not agree with him. People don't have to agree with him, but instead of calling insults like a 12 year old boy, people need to back up their opinion with facts.
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