The battle between the HD DVD and Blu-ray players has moved to be the battle over content and each party’s relationship with Hollywood movie producers. Even Hollywood producers have taken sides. Steven Spielberg is plugging Blu-ray while Transformers director Michael Bay, has thrown a “wobbly”because the studio that bankrolls the movie has backed HD DVD. He prefers the Blu-ray format.
Last week we saw several studios line up behind the HD DVD format and this Christmas is set to be the battle between SpiderMan on Blu-ray and Shrek on HD DVD.
Movie enthusiasts face confusion reminiscent of the VHS versus Betamax clash in the 1980s, as each hero is used to champion one of two rivals in the next generation of home entertainment as “high definition” (HD) DVD formats fight it out to determine how we will watch films.
In one corner is Sony’s “Blu-ray”, so-called because the Blu-ray DVD players use a blue laser instead of the red beam in standard players.
Blu-ray’s rival is “HD-DVD”, pioneered by Toshiba and supported by the might of Microsoft and Intel.
Batting for Blu-ray are Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney, who have all pledged to release the high-definition versions of future DVD titles, including Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies, solely in Blu-ray format.
Sony has also enlisted the heavy-hitting support of Apple, Dell and Panasonic.
But last week, the HD-DVD camp scored a coup, when Paramount Pictures, which had previously supported both formats, switched allegiance to HD-DVD, announcing that its future high-definition releases including Transformers, Shrek the Third and Blades of Glory – worth a collective $1.8 billion dollars at the box office – will only be available in HD-DVD.
The move prompted a threat by Michael Bay, the director of Transformers, to pull out of the film’s sequel. “No Transformers 2 for me!” he wrote on his personal website. “To deny people who have Blu-ray sucks.”
Bay is the latest director to take sides in the war between the high definition formats. Steven Spielberg has pledged support for Blu-ray with the 30th anniversary release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be released exclusively in Blu-ray.
The battle is now set to hit the high street, where the DVD industry is worth $5.1 billion.
By 2010, it is estimated that a quarter of all video disc sales will be high definition formats. On the back of the recent high definition boom, industry experts predict that by the end of the year, around one quarter of us – or 6.1 million households – will have HD-ready sets and will want accessories to match.
Both formats use new camera and disc technology to create pictures with up to five times the resolution of standard DVDs.
“It is like de-misting a pane of glass, ” said a senior executive in a major electrical goods retailer.
“The difference is phenomenal, in picture quality, sound and the extra functions that both formats provide compared to standard DVDs. For consumers, though, it will ultimately come down to price because there is nothing really between them in quality.”
In Australia JB HiFi has even gone as far as only carrying and supporting the Blu-ray format.
Due to limited availability of the machines, prices are steep and only 2,500 have sold in the UK since they came on to the market in September last year.
Blu-ray players cost upwards of $850, with the most expensive model at $2,000 while HD-DVDs retail for between $799 to $1,900.
But industry experts believe that as prices come down as more of the machines come on to the market, sales will increase significantly.
John Binks, the commercial director at GfK, a retail and technology market researcher, said: “At the moment, neither camp is winning as many people are holding off to see which format dominates in the future. But the high definition revolution is gathering pace and the potential for the market is huge.”
Richard Cooper, an analyst at Screen Digest, said: “As people start to replace their dvd players, high definition machines will be seen as an upgrade, instead of just a luxury.