HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray: The Coming Format War

This time next year, we could be seeing the winner of the brewing format clash between the two mooted replacements for DVD - the suitably titled HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba, Microsoft, NEC and Sanyo; and the slightly more esoteric Blu-Ray with the support of Sony, Hitachi, Samsung, Philips, Apple, LG, Dell, HP, Sharp, and Panasonic.

Much like the VHS/Beta divide of the early 1980's this battle will have one winner and one loser - there is unlikely to be a middle ground as consumers will not support two different formats and given the inherent differences in the technologies, cross-compatibility is unlikely to happen in the short term if at all.

So who would I put my money on? There are a number of major factors to consider - the studios backing each format, the likelihood of the technology being accepted at all and of course which one gets into homes first. One thing to never underestimate is the small but dedicated early adopters market - it's this which could have the biggest effect on which DVD replacement succeeds.

Round One - The Studios

There are six major studios pledging their support for either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. In the HD corner we have Warner and Universal; while Blu-Ray has the heavyweight backing of Sony (Columbia), Disney and Fox - all massive players in the movie world. Paramount have recently announced their intention to support both formats - although how long they'll provide dual releases is anyone's guess.

Round Two - The Hardware

Hardware quality is likely to be a strong contributing factor to format acceptance. While there's little doubt that Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo have put out some stonking kit in their time, the bigger names are in the Blu-Ray camp - Sony have got a strong reputation and along with the likes of Panasonic and Sharp they're set to provide some truly remarkable hardware.

Round Three - The Consoles

I don't think any techno-geeks can have missed the coming release of two huge next-generation games consoles. November 2005 will see the Microsoft X-Box 360 hit store shelves and there is some speculation as to whether it will sport a HD-DVD to replace the DVD technology in their original console - we do know that DVD is the format of choice for now but sometime next year we could be seeing an update to the console's hardware. Of course, Sony's own PlayStation 3 is due next year and one of its main selling points is the expected Blu-Ray drive - making it one of the first consumer products to feature the technology. Could it be video games that decide what format we'll be watching films on in years to come?

Round Four - Release Dates

The US launch of HD-DVD has just been put back to early 2006 meaning the gap between launch is going to be shorter than expected. However, the Japanese pre-Christmas 2005 launch is still on target giving HD-DVD an early start over its competitor. Blu-Ray is expected to appear in spring 2006 - maybe hanging onto the coat tales and riding the publicity wave of the PS3 if it hits the market as expected. We fully expect both hardware launches to be accompanied by significant software and movie support and Warner in particular have thrown quite a significant weight to the HD-DVD camp with a number of both classic and recent titles helping give the format a running start.

Who will win?

If I was a betting man, I'd have to put my money behind Blu-Ray - mainly because it's the format that offers more in almost every way. The main selling point for HD-DVD is it's DVD heritage, but rather than be tied to what is already becoming an aging technology Blu-Ray offers more in terms of support and backing making it the sensible choice.

Paramount's semi-defection must have been quite a blow to Toshiba's confidence that they can make HD-DVD a resounding success and it’s in consumer’s interest for one format to dominate early on to reduce the need for more than one type of hardware in our AV racks.

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