Monday, January 07, 2008

The "war" is over (or that's the way it seems)

As many of you probably know already, Warner Bros plans to drop HD DVD support in May 2008. This effectively gives Sony and Blu-Ray the upper hand in the "format war" which has been raging on for the last two years or so.

The upside of loss

To be honest I'm not disappointed with my purchase at all. I have a high quality DVD player which upscales my standard DVDs. I also have a collection of films that I'll enjoy in HD for years to come. If people still love their Laserdiscs I don't see why I can't do the same.

The one positive aspect is that I'll soon be able to purchase WB films for cheap in the next few months at prices comparable to DVD as they try to clear out their supply. The current nature of the internet also allows me to replace a broken drive quite easily for the next decade or so if I need to.

The only way that I'll get a BluRay system is if it comes standard with one of my new computers or when the drives are less than 100 dollars. My dabbling in HD content has led me to the belief that most high def films out aren't really worth it and that most upscalled DVDs look almost as good.

Is the upgrade really worth the cost?

Yes that's right, I honestly think DVD quality is about as good as what's needed at the moment for the majority of films out there. Some look GREAT in both high def formats, while most look only marginally better (not good enough to warrant the extra 15-20 dollar ticket price).

Listen, to techies the “next-gen” player is a “huge” thing. To be perfectly honest, as I’ve said before, I don’t see most people (such as Joe Schmo) wanting to replace their entire library with something that’s only marginally better for the majority of films out there. Heck, I’m not impressed with some of the "high def" transfers I've seen. Is "Liar, Liar" better on HD? Only marginally. Is it worth 20 more dollars to get that small increase in quality when you can get almost the exact same picture quality with a DVD upscaller? Probably not. 2 or 3 dollars more? Sure - but that's at least 10 years down the road.

BluRay will only be successful with visually impressive films: 2001, Serenity, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Star Trek (at some point) - basically Science Fiction and Action films. Standard comedies and dramas won’t get an real added benefit because it doesn't matter if we can see the pores on Jeffrey Tambor's head in an episode of Arrested Development (though it was only filmed in 720p so it really won't have that much added benefit to a release).

Shilling and doublespeak

As it stood the "war" was silly. It made the most jingoistic person look reasonable by comparison, with anti-Sony people on one side and Sony-fans on the other. I even saw people claim they backed Blu-Ray only because Microsoft backed HD DVD, apparently big mega-corporations that span multiple avenues of business are evil... wait, that isn't Sony too, is it?

There were plenty of shills on both sides (one only needs to look at mediocre director Michael Bay) who would claim that one was superior than the other (in this case he backed Blu-Ray). Let me tell you something, there’s little difference between the two.

Both formats are near exact matches visually unless you have something like an 50+ inch HDTV and if you're investing hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in audio equipment, then you might notice such a small minute increase in the two. Joe Schmo however, won't notice the difference because he won't have the money you have to spend on a "home theater", and if he did he'd probably spend it on paying his mortgage or saving so he can put his kids in college.

"More" is not always better

Until recently Blu-Ray had the upper hand in that, but HD DVD had recently announced a 51 GB stable storage capacity, "trumping" Blu-Ray's 50 GB. Wow, what a difference...

Studios have been selling their media under-utilized for over 20 years, tapes, CDs, VHS, and even DVDs. "More" media sells better, even if they can fit that 70 minute album on one disc they’ll split it in half. A 2.5 hour film got the same treatment on VHS, and television shows on DVD did the same. Don’t ever expect them to ever release anything in the capacity that the format can hold.

What the future holds

The only way that people will start buying HD films exclusively is either to keep confusing the buying public or to stop DVD sales altogether. By the time BluRay films are released with competitive prices compared to DVD - the next Generation media war will start up. People buying either format should have realized that while the media likes to claim the sky is falling on DVDs (not lasting “as long” as VHS), you’re not going to see people replace their hundreds of DVDs for a decade or two.

Personally I think all of this be unnecessary once some company sees the opportunity for "combo players" that will play both media in one single drive. There are already ones out there that are 1000 dollars and the odds are they'll eventually become "standard" (at least for all companies aside from Sony). I'm sure there will be studios against it as well since they will want ignorant people to repurchase the films, though what's the point if you already have a player and the equivalent HD DVD?

DVD sales are dropping off, at a much faster rate than any of the HD formats are being picked up. Factors in this involve the boom of Netflix making it as cheap to rent 15 films in a month as it is to buy only two. Market saturation has also occurred with quite a few releases, with most every popular to cult film released (there are always the few odds and ends that have yet to be released). Many people are only buying new films at this point.

VHS to DVD was a HUGE leap in quality. The benefits of the format were obvious from the very start. This format war was bound to doom both formats because regular old average joes are already turned off by both.


Personally the HD DVD people shouldn't be completely pissed. The odds are some company (and probably Toshiba in a year or so when the last remaining studio contracts end) will come out with a dual format player which will play both BluRay and HD DVD discs, allowing the people who adopted HD DVD players from having to re-purchase the same films in a different HD format. This of course will disappoint studios banking on having people purchase the BluRay version after already purchasing the HD format. In the end it will be no different than the CD+/CD- formats or the DVD+/DVD- formats.

By the time BluRay has "picked up steam" the next-gen will already be here. I like most people will probably stick with their DVD libraries until then. I just don't see the benefit in image quality increase between DVD and the high def discs. The quality increase with VHS was obvious and a major leap in the way the films are made.

Probably the biggest mistake that HD DVD/BluRay did was make the same sized disc that only modified the current technology. Something more drastic would have allowed them to "force" an upgrade like the difference between the VHS/DVD technologies forced people to do. I'd hate that as a consumer but in the end they dug their own graves.

I'm a pretty free market guy but I'd have to say, this is exactly why movie studios should not be allowed to create (or in this case help create) a format that they, for all intents and purposes, control. Are people familiar with "United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc." in 1948, which ended the ability for studios to own their own theaters due to anti-trust laws?

To anyone who reads this, I don't claim to be an expert, just a regular man voicing his somewhat informed opinion

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