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Bring Out Yer Dead?

Format battles in the consumer electronics business don't always end up with a clear-cut winner, but this one will.

After CES, where a Warner Brothers announcement had put Blu-ray supporters in the catbird seat, it seemed that the HD DVD camp was like the not-dead character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “I’m Not Dead!” HD DVD supporters like Toshiba seemed to be saying as they lowered retail prices and spent big bucks on a Super Bowl commercial promoting the technology that seemed already doomed. Now an official press release from Toshiba says that the manufacturer is pulling the plug on the technology. This news comes on the heels of announcements from Netflix, Blockbuster, and Wal-Mart that they were throwing their support behind the format.

As Michael Heiss wrote this month in Residential Systems magazine, format battles in the consumer electronics business don’t always end up with a clear-cut winner, but this one will. Blu-ray looks like Mohammed Ali to HD-DVD’s Sonny Liston. I think it will be Blu-ray lighting the torch at Olympic games of the future, while HD DVD finds itself greeting Milwaukee tourists at Caesar’s Palace’s front door.

I’ve always believed that competition is a good thing in any market. For instance, the missile race, I mean, customer race between XM and Sirius satellite radio only led to better deals for consumers and bigger paychecks for on-air celebrities. Eventually those two camps will be combined into one, but I’m sure my brothers will continue to receive the service for free because they were lost in the shuffle of a “format” war. In the case of HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, however, I don’t think the attraction is quite as high for the basic “blue-laser” technology in the first place. Most consumers still don’t understand the difference between HD and Digital, so will be uninspired by the prospect of another expensive disk format. A format war will only dilute what would be a modest sales opporunity anyway.

Face it, average consumers love their DVD libraries, and probably don’t want to start another collection with boxes that don’t match the size of the ones they already own. On the high-end that the custom installation channel serves, Blu-ray will do quite well, because professional integrators will promote it. Wealthy consumers always want the best, and that will be Blu-ray.

While I’m quite happy with the way my 2.35:1 DVDs look upscaled through my amazing 1080p Runco 1100 RS Ultra with AutoScope, I know they will never look as good as they could in their native aspect ratio via a Blu-ray player. The average consumer, on the other hand, doesn’t really get it and probably never will.

The Toshiba decision is a huge victory for the Blu-ray camp and likely the final nail in the coffin for HD-DVD, but it remains to be seen if it makes that big of an impact in the consumer world, relatively speaking.