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Thread: Format Wars, Standards & Competition

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Gerry Patterson, The man who almost invented humble sarcasm tags(Invisible to non-sarcastic browsers)

Format War Heats Up - The Blu-ray Empire Strikes Back


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Date: Sat, 05 Jan 2008 15:13:04 +1100

Just now on ABC RN, I heard a news report that Warner Bros have announced that they will be releasing their movies exclusively in the Blu-ray format. Logging in to my workstation, I can see that Google confirms this. The news is on the Reuters feed and there is an article titled "Warner Backs Blu-ray, Tilting DVD Battle", in the New York Times, dated January 5th, 2008.

For those of us observing the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD conflict, this is an interesting development. The Format War, after a few initial skirmishes, akin to a phony war is now an intense battle, that may decide the outcome. Of course, with technology as it is today, it seems strange to me that no one has created a player capable of reading both formats. But in this case, the protagonists seem to prefer a battle to the death rather than a diplomatic truce.

In August 2007, the HD-DVD team triumphantly announced that they had exclusively signed Paramount and Dreamworks. Since Dreamworks is one of the most popular studios in the world and was about to bring out the hits Shrek The Third and Transformers (exclusively in the HD-DVD format) this was deemed to be a significant development. Although it was probably not as significant as the HD-DVD team would have had us believe, since the deal runs out in 2009, and consumers who remember the last format war are wary enough to keep their options open.

But it looks as though the Blu-ray team have hit back. Warner Brothers announcement means that most of the major media consortiums have signed up with Blu-ray. We need to get some more detailed analysis of the agreement. But if it really is an exclusive deal this could be an important turning point.

The Blu-ray team is led by Japanese behemoth Sony, by now a seasoned and battle-hardened format warrior veteran, who lost the most famous (arguably the definitive) format war of all time, last century (VHS vs Beta). Did they learn their lessons then? Or are they destined to suffer another defeat? In some ways the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD war has echos of that old battle. Like Beta, Blu-ray is reputedly a superior format. Sony made the mistake then of promoting the superior quality of their format, but the consumers were more interested in total playback time and price. Nowadays, in this latest foray into format warfare, they have been more circumspect. They have not been overly concerned with rushing to market and have been careful to keep the price of their products down. The recent downgrading of the PlayStation 3, in order to make the price more competitive was an important tactical response in the format war as well as an attempt to match the price of the Xbox 360. The PlayStation 3 is now an attractively priced Blu-ray player, considering that it is also a powerful gaming platform. There are also rumours of lower priced Blu-ray players in the pipeline.

On the HD-DVD team is Japanese giant Toshiba in an unlikely alliance with the Evil Empire, Microsoft. The Redmond team, in what could best be described as a courageous decision (for a software company) threw their substantial bulk behind the HD-DVD format and have used their Xbox platform to promote it. Microsoft have shown their preference for zero sum games in the past. One rather suspicious Hollywood film director, Michael Bay, accused Microsoft of deliberately fomenting the format war, for sinister reasons of their own. In this regard Bay might have been paranoid. It is far more likely that Microsoft just got it wrong. Their target was much more likely to have been Sony. If the deal with Warner Bros. is indeed a death-blow for HD DVD, there will soon be an announcement of a Blu-ray accessory for the Xbox. What is interesting, however, is Bay's assertion that Microsoft actually paid many millions of dollars to encourage studios to sign up to HD DVD on an exclusive basis. This is more like the usual monopolistic behaviour that we have come to expect from Microsoft. Although there were probably secret deals on the both sides. The grinding relentless drive to sign up studios for exclusive support was an attempt to cutoff the rival's oxygen supply and it was battle of attrition that in a virtual (and non-lethal) manner was just as ruthless as the "Battle of Britain", last century.

But who is playing the role of Luftwaffe and who is the RAF?

Yes it's Godzilla vs King Kong. But which format will we be viewing it on?


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Copyright     2008, Gerry Patterson. All Rights Reserved.