A lot has been written in the media about the HD format "war." I have to admit, talking about it right now is a little silly in the first place. Frankly, sales aren't going to reach anything near DVD for a long time for one simple reason: without an HDTV, the next-gen formats are useless. While HDTV sales are booming and prices dropping, market penetration simply isn't there yet (latest numbers are around 30% of US households). This is in contrast to DVD -- the day DVD came out, every household in the US with a TV was capable of using it. Your plain old TV was all you needed to enjoy the dramatically improved picture quality.
I had to laugh when Paramount recently gushed about achieving 190k sales of The Transformers on HD-DVD during its first week. That number is relatively impressive for HD movie sales, but it was obliterated by DVD sales of 8.5 million.
People frequently cite the $200/player price-point as the magical point where everyone will suddenly go out and buy a next-gen player. This belief is based on rapid DVD adoption once player prices dropped to that point. What's being glossed over is the fact that, for a lot of people, the price is $200 plus the cost of an HDTV, which still sets you back a minimum of about $500.
All of that aside, I have a blog and I want to talk about the HD format war! My hypothesis: both formats will be with us for a long time. I have three reasons to believe this:
- The manufacturers and content producers are too entrenched: Sony and its 3 exclusive movie studios aren't backing down from Blu-ray anytime soon. In particular, Sony uses Blu-ray as its PS3 games format, so at the very least, the format will continue to exist for that use. Microsoft and Toshiba, the major backers of HD-DVD, certainly aren't backing down either, having recently added Paramount Studios as a second exclusive movie studio.
- There's an installed base: as I said, the numbers aren't large, but people (including me) have jumped on board and picked a side, or perhaps both sides. The installed base of users will require support in some form.
- The formats have identical dimensions: when discussing the HD format war, the commonly cited format war is Betamax vs. VHS, which VHS obviously won despite being the technically inferior format. Those media formats weren't physically compatible -- you couldn't put a Betamax tape into a VHS player or vice-versa -- but the two HD formats are perfectly compatible, being the exact same size as a DVD or CD. That, combined with the fact that the decoding process for both formats is virtually identical, means the only thing you really need in order to make a dual-format player is duplicate lasers and pickups to actually read the 1's and 0's off the different discs. A handful already exist.
I think the future is those dual-format players. In 5 years, I expect that you'll go buy an HD movie and not even think about the format of the disc -- your dual-format player at home will take care of it all for you. For now, those players are a bit cost prohibitive, though. You can buy the entry-level player for each format for less than the cost of a dual-format player.
All of this gets me back to my original point in creating this post. Since I believe both formats are going to continue to exist and I only have an HD-DVD drive for my HTPC, I'd like to be able to watch any new HD movie that comes out, not just those on HD-DVD. That means I need a Blu-ray drive for my computer.
Unfortunately, Blu-ray drives are quite expensive and there isn't much selection. In fact, if you want a drive that just reads Blu-ray discs (no burning) you only have one choice: the Pioneer BDC-202, which sets you back $260. At this point, there's no reason a bare Blu-ray drive should cost that much and there's no reason there should only be one player on the market (that second point probably drives the first). The HD-DVD equivalent, the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, only costs $180 these days and comes with 5 free HD-DVDs.
One of these days, I'll jump on board with Blu-ray as well, but its selection and price has to become more competitive before I do.