Why Blu-Ray Will Win The Format Wars

Our own Robbie Otal sounds off on Sony's decision to (surprise, surprise) go with their own media format, and what it could mean for the competing HD-DVD medium.
Published: June 6, 2005
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You know, up until now, most analysts and insiders have been looking at the current Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD format war from one angle, and one angle only. That is, it will ultimately be up to the major movie studios to decide which format will prevail over the other. While those in the Blu-Ray camp have long argued the technical advantages that their medium possesses over that of HD-DVD, namely in the form of storage capacity (Blu-Ray discs can currently hold upwards of 50 GB for dual layer discs, compared to just 30 GB available on a comparable HD-DVD dual layer disc), those in the HD-DVD camp will argue that technical superiority doesn't necessarily point to the winning format, as was the case in the format war between Beta and VHS, where Beta was in fact the superior format of the two.

Many insiders have speculated that Sony's recent decision to make the PlayStation 3 compatible with Blu-Ray media (all PS3 games will be pressed onto Blu-Ray discs) is a risky one, due to the fact that a single high-definition storage standard has yet to be decided upon. As a result, many believe that if HD-DVD does win in the format war, the PS3's Blu-Ray compatibility would be a moot point, serving only the PS3 games themselves.

What many people haven't discussed yet, is the fact that because the PlayStation 3 is compatible with the Blu-Ray medium, this in itself should allow the medium to win over HD-DVD in the format wars. Whether or not HD-DVD discs are less expensive to produce, or whether or not these discs can be manufactured on existing DVD assembly lines, consumers will still need to purchase a new HD-DVD player just to take advantage of this format. It will be very difficult to convince anyone to simply throw away their existing DVD players in favour of new HD-DVD players and recorders. On the other hand, it will be relatively easier to convince a person to purchase a PlayStation 3, in which the consumer gets a new next-generation video game system with the added bonus of a Blu-Ray player. This means that the entire PS3 userbase will automatically become the initial Blu-Ray userbase as well.

If you want further proof to how the PS3 will help the Blu-Ray format win the high-definition format war, look no further than Sony's own PSP. A year ago, there were few people who would have expected movie studios to support Sony's new Universal Media Disc, which is hardly universal when you think about it, as it can only play on PSP's. In some ways, the PSP's movie playback capabilities can be compared somewhat to Tiger Electronics' Video On personal video player. Video On is a special video player which plays custom-designed proprietary media known as the Personal Video Disc, or PVD, on a small toy-like video player. The device has been aimed strictly at kids, and most adults would easily look past the Video On as a suitable portable media player, in favour of a portable DVD player. Yet careful examination of the PSP and its UMD media would uncover striking parallels between itself and the Video On device.

Yes folks, in reality the PSP and its movie-playing capabilities are really no different from that of the Video On, although most would admit that the PSP has been packaged in a far more professional way, aimed at teenagers and adults. Yet at this point, the PSP has been more than successful as a portable media player, as most of the major movie studios, including 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Lions Gate, Disney, Tri-Star and Columbia Pictures (the last two which are actually owned by Sony) are now committed to releasing their full-length movies on the proprietary UMD media. UMD movies have become so popular with PSP owners, that whenever a new movie is released these days, both the DVD and PSP versions are being fully promoted, as was the case with the recent release of the horror movie Boogeyman.

In the case of the PS3 and the Blu-Ray format, movie studios will have an even larger incentive to support Blu-Ray over HD-DVD, as not only will ever PS3 owner be able to play Blu-Ray movies on their systems, but a number of companies including Panasonic, TDK, JVC (inventors of the VHS format), Hitachi, LG, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Zenith, Sharp, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony will all be releasing Blu-Ray players and recorders by the time the PS3 hits the marketplace. This means that unlike the UMD format, which is restricted only to the PSP, Blu-Ray movies will be playable on any PlayStation 3, as well as a number of stand-alone recorders and players, as well as newly released Windows-based computers. Looking at things from this perspective, it is hard to imagine how Blu-Ray will not win the format wars.
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