Remember in the 1980s when VHS and Betamax duked it out? Apparently the manufacturers of the future of home video have not learned from past mistakes (or, more specifically, they don’t much care that consumers will by and large stand on the sidelines while they duke it out), and we’re doomed to repeat the Format War for the future of DVD.
Actually, the format war has been going on for about a year now, and unlike with VHS vs. Betamax, there does not seem to be a clear winner to this war anywhere on the horizon. Earlier this year, it seemed that Sony’s Blu-ray was gaining some traction in the industry. The fact that the Playstation 3 would play Blu-ray discs appeared to be a momentum point for Sony. And Blockbuster announced that it would back Blu-ray over HD DVD.
But Toshiba’s HD DVD is not going away. It is backed by Microsoft, to name one heavy hitter. And at least two content giants are on board: Universal and Paramount are both releasing titles on HD DVD, and will no longer support Blu-ray. It appears that we’re in for a stalemate for quite some time. As was the case with Betamax, it appears Blu-ray has the superior technology, but HD DVD seems to be winning the battle of cost and pragmatism, having dropped the price of their players to levels that are unreasonable to any company that expects to make money in the short term, but very reasonable for consumers. Will the long-term approach win the war for HD DVD?
Honestly, I don’t know, and I really don’t care. What I do know is that I won’t be buying either format for probably a very long time, because (1) I’m waiting out the war and then some, and (2) my perception is that I don’t get all that much in the upgrade from standard DVD to high-def. Simply put, high-def DVD is not enough of an upgrade over standard DVD (which already sports outstanding sound quality and certainly-good-enough picture quality). You need a big HDTV to care about high-def DVD.
In the meantime, we have half the film studios committed to HD DVD and the other half to Blu-ray, and they’re releasing titles. Even old titles, as if I already wanted to replace my existing DVD library in this uncertain format-war climate. I want to know who’s buying these titles. Are you starting to replace your library with a format that could possibly be dead in two years?
Frankly, the concept of replacing my DVD library makes me queasy. I replaced all my VHS tapes, but I won’t be doing that with my DVDs. It’s just not practical or economical or worth my time. High-def DVD is not that much of a sell — at least, not yet. It makes me wonder if this format war is battling for turf that is going to turn out to be a worthless tundra.
When I see that all of the “Star Trek” original series box sets will be released on HD DVD in November at a street price of $170 per set, all I can think is: Who is buying this, and why? Obviously people with money to burn, because the format is still a big question mark and you may be investing in a dead future. Until there’s a clear winner, why should we waste our money or time?