Innovation & Design

Blu-ray to Win Format War?


It will be a long, tedious war but Forrester Research is convinced that the Sony-led Blu-ray format will succeed in replacing DVD as the next-generation disc. The irony, however, is that by the time consumers are ready to switch digital media may be far more important than physical media.

Independent technology and market research company Forrester Research has predicted victory for Blu-ray in the next-generation DVD format wars. Unfortunately for consumers, however, the firm believes that the battle will not end that quickly.

At least two years before consumers can decide

"After a long and tedious run-up to the launch, it is now clear to Forrester that the Sony-led Blu-ray format will win. But unless the HD DVD group abandons the field, it will be another two years before consumers are confident enough of the winner to think about buying a new-format DVD player," Forrester analyst Ted Schadler said in a report.

Forrester feels that Blu-ray's multi-use functionality for movies, computers and games gives it the edge over the Toshiba-led HD DVD camp. Indeed, the inclusion of Blu-ray in Sony's PlayStation 3 could be a big factor, and it's largely for that reason that Paramount recently decided to endorse Blu-ray when the movie studio had formerly only backed HD DVD. In addition, the Blu-ray format offers greater storage capacity and uses the familiar Java for its interactive features. And although manufacturing costs for Blu-ray will be slightly greater than HD DVD initially, the industry is working on ways to bring down those costs quickly.

Copy protection compromise could be key

Although a tedious format war seems almost inevitable, companies backing the respective groups would like to avoid such a scenario. PC maker Hewlett-Packard, a Blu-ray supporter, offered an olive branch of sorts yesterday, when it urged the Blu-ray group to be more consumer friendly by loosening its copy protection. Maureen Weber, HP's general manager of personal storage, said that consumers want to be able to store copies of their movies on their PCs to make them accessible over a home network. This "mandatory Managed Copy" feature is standard on the competing HD DVD. "It's critical that we have the ability to move content around the home," Weber told Reuters.

The idea behind this is that if the Blu-ray camp compromises and includes a feature heavily touted by HD DVD, then it should be able to attract further studio support and eventually convince Toshiba to drop out of the race. That being said, movie studios naturally prefer stronger copy protection of their content.

The longer the format war drags on, the longer consumers are likely to wait before even trying out a high-definition DVD. They don't want to get involved in a battle similar to the Betmax/VHS days. "Consumers will postpone a decision until the winner is obvious. The war between Betamax and VHS trained a generation of consumers to be wary of competing formats. Many consumers were caught with an expensive device that couldn't play the movies available at the video store," said Schadler.

Digital to takeover?

As the Sony-led and Toshiba-led camps fight for their respective formats, consumers remain quite satisfied with the current state of DVD, as the jump in picture quality may not be enough to entice mainstream users. Furthermore, it's possible that physical media will be replaced by digital media and that none of this bickering over a new format will even matter in the end. "The irony of this format war is that it comes at the tail end of the century-long era of physical media," Schadler noted.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates echoed similar sentiments in a speech given recently at Howard University in Washington D.C. -- perhaps that is also why MS has decided to stay with DVD-9 for the Xbox 360.

"The home activity of the future will be very digital, we actually call it the digital lifestyle," he said. "Your music, of course, is already moving away from being on a physical media to just being on a hard disk or streamed across the Internet. My daughter, who's 9, asked me as we went into a record store what a record was, and, of course, she's never seen a record, and five years from now people will say what's a CD, why did you have to go to the case and open something up and you couldn't sequence it your own playlist way; that will be a thing of the past."

Gates continued, "Likewise, even for videos that will happen. The format that's under discussion right now, HD versus Blu-ray, that's simply the last physical format we'll ever have. Even videos in the future will either be on a disk in your pocket or over the Internet and therefore far more convenient for you. You can organize things the way you want and it will show up on all these different devices."


Later, Baby
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