Recently, the big sales on HD-DVD players and their movies have been used as proof that the HD-DVD format is losing to the Blu-Ray format. The big sale prices are proof, some say, that the HD-DVD camp feels the need to give away the store in order to attract consumers. This might even be their last push.
Some or all of that might be true, but let’s be honest: It’s the same thing the DVD format did a decade ago. (Wow, can you believe it’s been 10 years already?) Warner Bros. was the big proponent of the format back then, and did everything they could to put more discs in more hands, and more players on more shelves. My first DVD player came with three free movies. And Warner Bros. ran the promotion for the first couple of years, as I recall, where you could collect your proofs of purchase and get a free movie for every three that you bought. That’s how I picked up DARK CITY, for example, which is still in my collection and a favored flic.
Plus, I think the DVD format had more education to impart upon the general populace than the following generation. Remember that DVDs were, for many, their first experience with widescreen movies on their home television sets. (Some cable networks had begun advertising widescreen movie presentations at that time, but they were an oddity. Sci Fi was probably the first.) Sadly, we still have “full frame” releases today, but there was some initial opposition to DVD just because — ugh — the picture didn’t fill the screen. We had to teach those people about original aspect ratio. Following that, the value of anamorphic compression became a big deal.
There was also the trouble with DIVX, but Circuit City and friends gave up that ghost soon enough. I still own one of those that I picked up for a buck when the format when belly-up, just so I can show it to my grandkids and show them the fun they missed. The disc, of course, is completely unplayable, but it’s a quaint novelty.
What’s the difference between HD-DVD’s actions now, and DVD’s actions then? The players are still just beyond most people’s comfort zone. (Actually, I think the price point of high definition players today are well above where DVD players were in 1997-1998, but go with me on this one.) The movies are still around $30 a pop. Market share is still fairly low, but growing slowly.
Now, it could very well be true that everything I wrote in the first paragraph is the gospel truth. But let’s not kid ourselves: This is S.O.P. for businesses trying to gain a competitive edge. They give away things. They market heavily. They create alliances. (See Microsoft, Google, etc.) They try to push stuff into more stores. DVD had Best Buy; Blu-ray or HD-DVD has to court Wal-Mart. Blockbuster’s already made their decision. Perhaps they were premature, but we’ll soon see.
This format war has done nothing to help the world of optical discs. It came at a particularly stupid time, as high speed internet connections are making digital downloads a desirable thing. Many will skip this generation of content, and just leap ahead to the Amazon Unboxes or the Xbox 360 stores or the iTunes of the world. If Microsoft and Sony and all the rest had just agreed on something two years ago, I think it would be a different market today. High definition discs still rely on a large installation base of HDTVs, but that rate is picking up every year. And this should be the time for a single new format to thrive.
But it’s not going to happen.
In the meantime, don’t believe the fight is over yet.
Now, if you asked me to predict the future, I’d place my wager on Blu-ray winning. Consider that just a snapshot for this moment of time. I thought the pick-up of the HD-DVD format would have been greater after the Xbox 360 drive release last year. It doesn’t appear to be happening. Perhaps HD-DVD is a format that will best be used as a PC backup, and not a movie format? We’ll see. . .