Blu-ray And HD DVD Support Demystified


Analysis - If you had to choose between Blu-ray and HD DVD today, what would you buy? Based on recent media coverage we guess likely you would go with Blu-ray. But has the market already made its decision? Which companies support which format? We spent some time examining the current market and compiled a list of hardware vendors, retail stores and publishers and their support for the HD age.

There is no doubt that the high-definition format war is one of most popular topics in the tech industry today. But while Blu-ray and HD DVD are gaining traction in the mainstream, it is still the enthusiast user and early adopter that remains the driver of the general opinion on both formats on the Internet. We are following this format war closely and, as a result, are often much more tangled up in this HD opinion battle than we'd prefer to. Just as is the case with Apple-Windows PC, Nvidia-ATI/AMD or Intel/AMD, one day you are being accused of being bought by Intel and the next day by AMD.

The HD DVD/Blu-ray rivalry has the sort of dynamic we have been used to the Intel/AMD battles once a new technology is emerging that could change the playing field. And especially since we have some changes on the content side, our reader reactions are more intense - with some pretending to be representatives of major content studios and requesting retractions and others threatening to post articles discussing allegedly false content that was published by TG Daily. While we have no doubts about the articles we have posted so far, these emails got us thinking. Is this just the typical buzz that is happening or are we heading into a phase that in fact is deciding who is winning the format war - and Gartner's prediction in fact is right?

We believe that all predictions are pure guesses, not more and not less. HD DVD has not yet lost the battle, but needs to review its strategy. To find out where the market is right now, we took at the format support lists today. We recommend taking this list with a grain of salt, as we heard that virtually in every market segment companies are reevaluating their HD strategy and will make further announcements likely by the end of Q1.

Let's take a step back first. The high definition format war essentially began in the beginning of 2006. At that year's Consumer Electronics Show, Blu-ray and HD DVD were both on display in major exhibit halls for the first time. Back then, many studios had already chosen sides, and were already beginning to mold the seemingly one-sided battle there is today. However, these studios made decisions based on concept demonstrations instead of actual working technology.

For example, Disney sided with Blu-ray before the first consumer players were even shown off at CES. "We think Blu-ray offers a more enhanced entertainment experience. If there isn't a unified standard, and you believe that the best format will win, then you have to go with the most capable format," said the president of Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment Bob Chapek in 2006. On the software backend, HD DVD's HDi technology is believed to outpace what Blu-ray can do, and it has been that way since both formats officially launched. Sony is just now beginning to match HD DVD's enhanced navigation and video control features.

The hardware side is second to the content, especially because consumers are largely reliant on players built by founding companies of each format. However, availability of playback hardware, provides market exposure and marketing potential. Here is how the CE player support looks today (U.S.):

* - LG's only high-def player is a combo Blu-ray/HD DVD device. Samsung has a dual format player, but also sells an individual Blu-ray player.

Hardware support is really not important in the format war, and hasn't played a very big role in past generations. Toshiba remains is the major driver in developing and marketing HD DVD and thus it commands the market for HD DVD players. The same goes for Sony with Blu-ray, especially because of the Playstation 3. On the studio side, the only major exclusive HD DVD content supporter from the beginning has been Universal.

One thing to note, though, is that every Blu-ray player on the market now except for ones released in 2008 and the Playstation 3 will near obsolescence later this year when the new Blu-ray Disc Java Profile 1.1 standard becomes commonplace. Because older players were not built for this standard and do not have any way of downloading firmware upgrades, early adopters will not be able to access certain in-movie features in the future. It's possible this could cause a backlash down the road.

The content side is where it all happens, and because Sony was able to wow the big studios with its ideas before anything was set in stone, it grabbed hold of them before HD DVD even knew what hit it. Sony Pictures, MGM, 20th Century Fox and Disney, all sided with Blu-ray exclusively.