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Sony CEO Says That HD Format War is a "Stalemate"

Posted on Friday, November 9th, 2007 1:10 PM

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For those of you who are thinking that there will be a quick victor in the high definition format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, be sure to contemplate the meaning of Sony's CEO, Howard Stringer, comments that it is currently a "stalemate."

The Associated Press published his comments in an article that appears on Yahoo! News:

"It's a difficult fight," said Stringer, speaking at the 92nd Street Y cultural center in Manhattan.

Toshiba has been selling its players for as low as $200 heading into the holiday season, while Blu-ray players cost more than twice as much. The HD DVD camp also scored a significant win in August, when it induced Paramount Pictures to drop most of its support for Blu-ray and put out high-definition movies exclusively on HD DVD.

"We were trying to win on the merits, which we were doing for a while, until Paramount changed sides," Stringer said.

At the same time, he played down the importance of the battle, saying it was mostly a matter of prestige whose format wins out in the end.

You can click on the Read link below to read the full article, but basically, this is the head of the most powerful member of the Blu-ray Disc Alliance saying that HD DVD isn't going anywhere any time soon and that it's a "difficult fight."

While those of us out here seeing the war from the consumer's point of view would say "duh," this is quite a statement from a major player on the Blu-ray side, especially given repeated insistence in the past that the war had been won by Blu-ray (even before it had actually really gotten going).

The article goes on to say that he was more upbeat about the PlayStation 3. The oddity about that is that, as a gaming platform, the PS3 has always been a distant third behind the Ninteno Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360. It has always been more highly regarded for its ability to play Blu-ray discs than it has for its appeal to gamers (although more games should be coming out that will help that somewhat). If he is more positive on a third-place game platform than he is about the format war, what does that tell you about his outlook on Blu-ray's future?

When you're making your purchasing decisions for yourself, or for a gift for that someone special in your life, count on the fact that there are two HD disc formats, and since some studios are exclusive to one format or the other, players for both will be necessary if you want to get your favorite movies in HD.

Personally, I see Disney making overtures for neutrality in the coming months. They were very involved in the development of the interactivity on HD DVD, and they've announced titles for Blu-ray next year that take advantage of features that don't yet exist on any Blu-ray player available for sale. Those features could be done easily on HD DVD and they would be playable on every HD DVD player sold since the launch of the format in April 2006. On top of that, HD DVD is looking to have a very strong 4th quarter, and the studio will only ignore all those potential sales only so long.

The release this past week of Cars and Ratatouille on Blu-ray is the first time that I've really wished that I had a Blu-ray player, and it just amplifies the frustration over the fact that even if I accept the higher price of Blu-ray players (the least expensive model is now below $400, but the least expensive HD DVD player can be had for under $200), there isn't a single Blu-ray player that has all the features present in my first-generation HD DVD player that I purchased over a year ago.

I can deal with having to have two different players to play movies in HD. Even if Blu-ray players are more expensive, that's a hurdle that can be overcome. But I can't deal with the fact that I would be paying more money for a player that can't play all the features of discs that have already been announced for release in the near future. That crosses the line from just overspending on a luxury item to wasting my money, and I refuse to do that.

The HD DVD format is relatively mature, its players are feature-rich, and they're very affordable. The Blu-ray format is still changing (witness Profile 1.0, Profile 1.1 which is now called Bonus View, and Profile 2.0), its players are not full-featured (few can be connected to the Internet for updates and interactivity, none are currently capable of Profiles 1.1 and 2.0, but some may be upgraded for 1.1), and they are relatively expensive (although they have been getting cheaper).

From the perspective of the consumer, it's not hard to realize why the format war is at a "stalemate," as Stringer says. It appears that he's finally realizing (or at least, publicly stating) that people are more interested in reality than they are in press releases and promises. The format war has seen more rapid price decreases than I've ever seen before in a new format, and perhaps now the Blu-ray manufacturers will decide to take the battle to the performance side of things and step up to the challenge.

Even with all those things working against Blu-ray, its biggest guns are its exclusive studios. Disney and 20th Century Fox have been staunch supporters in the past, but Disney's history with HD DVD and Microsoft make their defection more probable than not, and Fox hasn't been good about keeping to their release schedule. If Blu-ray were to lose Disney to neutrality (or the real nightmare for Stringer, a Paramount-style defection), the tide of the format war would definitely shift. 

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