HD Format Wars are over, but who won?

consumer electronics Feb 20, 2008

The war over which high-definition disc format to choose is now over. Toshiba yesterday announced that it would be withdrawing it’s HD-DVD players from the market and retiring the format. With Warner Brothers deciding to release it’s content on Blu-Ray Toshiba seems to have gotten the message. So, Sony is the winner, right? Maybe.

Certainly it will be simpler in the future to select HD content discs: all of them will be Blu-Ray. However, unless Sony cuts the prices of BD discs right now, the consumer community may simply bypass BD and opt for downloaded HD content from sources like Netflix and AppleTV. 
It’s not only the price of the discs, but the licensing fees, royalty payments, and the cost of the actual blue lasers themselves that have to be reduced. This may not happen quickly enough for the consumer and if Sony wants to really cash in on this format war victory, it may have to take a bath in the short term, selling the pricier components below cost in order to have market penetration. Technological development is always moving forward and the cost of those components will inevitably drop providing Sony with profitability but what they need now is to restore consumer confidence.
What about those of us who bought HD-DVD movies? Are we “screwed, blu-rayed, and tattooed”? Not really. HD-DVD players will be going for dirt-cheap and you may want to invest in a multi-format player like the one from LG so you can play your “legacy” HD-DVD discs.
Also, since no new content will be produced, there won’t be any need for the software updates to make the players compatible. Software updates? Yep, both of the HD formats use an interactive layer that is essentially computer software. In the case of BD, it’s a version of Java called BDJava. As content providers upgrade the Java versions used in the creation of the BD discs, players need to be updated to support these features. Internet aware BD players like the Playstation3 can update themselves automatically as do PC based BD drives.
Speaking computers, maybe this is the sign that Steve Jobs was waiting for to announce formal Blu-Ray support on the Mac? Considering that he has a seat on the Blu-Ray Committee one wonders why he hasn’t jumped up and supported the format since day one.