February 19, 2008
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Blu-ray wins HD format war
By -- Sun Media




Blu-ray is no longer a question, it is the answer. The high-definition format war is suddenly over. Blu-ray won.

So did the public, the tech-savvy consumers frustrated with having to choose sides as the battle raged.

"If there ever was a battle," Eisuke Tsuyuzaki tells Sun Media with a touch of sarcasm.

Tsuyuzaki is vice-president of corporate development for Panasonic and general manager of its Blu-ray Group. Panasonic is part of a winning consortium of companies manufacturing Blu-ray machines.

Toshiba was the sole manufacturer of the incompatible HD DVD machines and, yesterday, the company gave up and surrendered. Toshiba had no choice, especially after North American retailers started siding exclusively with Blu-ray -- the machines and movies -- in recent weeks, announcing plans to stop stocking the rival format.

Critically, only two of the major Hollywood studios -- Universal plus Paramount and its DreamWorks division -- have been releasing exclusively in HD DVD. Both studios are doomed in the high-def business if they do not capitulate and quickly switch. Both are expected to do so, although both studios refused to comment to Sun Media this week.

Warner Bros., which also supported both formats, announced in January it was dumping HD DVD and going Blu-ray exclusive by May.

"From anyone's point of view," says Tsuyuzaki, "doing both, sitting on the fence, doesn't really mean anything. So, if we are serious about not playing politics, if we are serious about developing the market, then it is Blu-ray.

"High definition is here to stay. It's like when black-and-white went to colour and when VHS went to DVD. It is inevitable. We've been saying for the past seven years, if you want an elegant solution, Blu-ray completes high definition."

Industry insiders expect that Blu-ray will go mainstream by Christmas.

Blu-ray had been outselling HD DVD by a two-to-one margin throughout 2007.

But the market was still weak. Only early adopters -- the tech junkies -- were involved.

"Early adopters, by nature, want the latest and the greatest," says Tsuyuzaki. They voted with their purchases and Blu-ray lurched ahead, despite a faltering start when both formats went public in mid-2006.

In November, Paramount/DreamWorks made an astounding decision.

Like Warners, it had been releasing titles in both formats. Then it partnered with Toshiba and sided exclusively with HD DVD. The bizarre factor is that, even with Paramount's own titles, Blu-ray outsold HD DVD by two-to-one.

The Paramount play was irrelevant, however. The Warners decision had far more impact, says Tsuyuzaki. It is a numbers game. Paramount/DreamWorks has four percent of the $30-billion home entertainment market, he says. Warners commands 25 to 30 percent. "So it's a much bigger impact."

Like other Blu-ray backers, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has been watching the market closely. Lori MacPherson, general manager for North America, tells Sun Media that the two-to-one sales figures in favour of Blu-ray quickly accelerated in January and February.

"After the Warner Bros. announcement, that shifted pretty radically to five-to-one one week, six-to-one the next week, and eight-to-one the next.

So it has really given consumers that added level of confidence to go ahead and make their purchase and feel that, by investing in Blu-ray, they know the titles they want will be available.

"And it is a fantastic home entertainment choice. We did a lot of research on all the options early on and, right from the get-go, we staunchly believed that Blu-ray was the best consumer format. So that's where we put our support from the beginning and we haven't wavered."

Blu-ray and HD DVD were both in serious development since 2000. Repeated attempts to get studios, machine manufacturers, video game creators and computer companies to agree on a single high-def format failed. It was a new millennium version of the video war between VHS and Beta.

Both new DVD formats use blue-violet lasers. But the formats are incompatible. Blu-ray backers argue their format is superior because it holds more information and provides sharper images and better sound. HD DVD backers argued that their format was cheaper to manufacture and more stable.

But mainstream consumers made it clear they needed one choice before they would buy high-definition DVD players for their new HDTVs.

Content and clarity will be the key for Blu-ray to go mainstream, MacPherson says.

"It's hard for it to be consumer-friendly on a piece of paper," she says.

But, once people see Blu-ray in action, "then a consumer sees the benefits right away."





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