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Blu-ray And HD DVD Support Demystified

Movie studios, PC vendors and retail stores

HD DVD has managed to get one convert. Through a reported financial agreement, Paramount went from supporting both high-def standards to HD DVD exclusively. Unfortunately for the fledgling format, though, Blu-ray grew back stronger from that and recently gained exclusive support from Warner Bros, another studio that used to be format neutral.

* - Warner Bros will stop supporting HD DVD on April 2, 2008.

In the above chart, the major studios for each side are shown, including those that still support both formats. It doesn't take a genius to see that the ones on the Blu-ray list have more name recognition than those on HD DVD. This is where HD DVD is dying. It speaks to the old adage of "content is king." The fact that Disney, Fox, and soon Warner are all exclusively backing Blu-ray gives the format an edge that is very difficult to out-do. However, Universal and Paramount are also huge players in the game. With those anchors, Blu-ray can't run away with everything, and the scales can still tilt either way.

Microsoft also supports HD DVD, and has from the start. The company's most visible contribution is the HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360. However, it is even more important behind the scenes, as it created the HDi technology that powers advanced features in HD DVD media, like picture-in-picture videos and Internet connectivity.

HD DVD also has the official nod from the DVD Forum, which standardized the DVD format, although it wasn't exactly a unanimous decision and not much weight is really given to that support today. Early on, though, it looked like HD DVD would be strong enough to capture the attention of the Blu-ray followers and cause them to jump ship.

For example, famed technology writer Chris Prillo wrote a column after CES 2006 that speculated, "I have no doubt that HD DVD will be the victor. Why? Price and compatibility!"

Additionally, HD DVD may be ready to tap into a new market. According to NPD senior vice president Stephen Baker, the price points of HD DVD players are reaching so low that they might begin appealing to users as standard DVD upconverters. "It's certainly a viable option because it's a relatively inexpensive player in general," said Baker. "Something that has features that people want and is relatively inexpensive is a sure way to open the market to consumers."

The other market for high definition media is in the computer industry. There appears to be somewhat less of a battle here, as several manufacturers support both formats. However, the number one manufacturer, Dell, has exclusively chosen to back Blu-ray. Apple has done the same. Of course, Toshiba is the biggest PC manufacturer to exclusively support HD DVD computer drives. Microsoft is Toshiba's strongest ally and is holding on to its Xbox 360 HD DVD drive. HP and Acer, two of the top three PC makers in the US, are neutral. And according to Baker, the computer drive market plays a "very little" role in the format war overall. So don't take too much stock in this part of the HD battle.

To reiterate, we believe that the format war is not over just yet. The end of the battle will be determined when general consumers have voted with their dollars. That's why retail is such an important sector to consider.

Despite a lot of talk over stores choosing sides in the format war, there is actually very little of a concrete divide. Blockbuster and Target both made public announcements about supporting Blu-ray and HD DVD.

However, dozens of Blockbuster locations stock both formats, and Target sells HD DVD movies right alongside Blu-ray Discs. Additionally, Target's decision of Blu-ray exclusivity was only valid through the end of 2007. Regarding online stores, it is actually near impossible to find an official outlet that only stocks one format. The top 10 electronics stores, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, stock both format players and content, so it is quite evident that retailers have not chosen sides just yet.

* Meijer HD DVD player sales are limited to Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD DVD player
** Products available offline only

There is really no divide within retail stores. Of the top 10 retailers that offer HD media, according to Pricewaterhouse Cooper, not one has chosen to exclusively back one format over the other.

As long as there are hit movies on HD DVD, it will continue to be a viable player, and as long as it continues to be a viable player, it will remain in the eye of the mass consumer market. When it's time for that market to make its decision, then we can start talking about the demise of one format and the acceptance of the other.

As Baker noted, "The whole high definition movie business is an early-adopter business, and it's going to be a little while before it moves into the mainstream."