Like a car accident that everyone rubbernecks as they drive by, there's something about a big, looming format war in entertainment electronics that everyone says they don't want, yet there's a secret delight in watching it play out. For journalists, there's always a bit of hypocrisy in decrying format wars, as they provide a steady supply of grist for the mill.
The news this week that Paramount Studios will be releasing movies in BOTH Blu-ray and HD DVD formats pretty much seals the deal here -- there really IS going to be a good old-fashioned format war for high def DVD.
Perhaps not since the classic VHS-Beta battle of the 70s have the stakes been so high. Currently, the battle lines are drawn with Warner Brothers and Universal in Toshiba's HD DVD camp, and Sony, Disney, Fox, and Lion's Gate in Sony's Blu-ray column. Paramount, previously on the HD DVD side, said they'll offer both because they think Sony's PlayStation 3 with built-in Blue-ray player will make the format hard to ignore.
Of course, there's already a low-level format war in recordable DVD, between the "plus" and "dash" formats, but I think everyone sees these as interim technologies, until high def DVD recording kicks in.
Perhaps the current Recordable DVD space has something to teach us about future high def DVD players, too. Rather than "play ball" with the format war mongers, so to speak (the companies that insist on "taking sides"), many DVD recorder manufacturers have chosen a third way, which is to offer compatibility with both systems in the same machine.
We all know that a format war requiring consumers to buy different pieces of equipment to play different software is not going to advance things very quickly. But if compatibility with both systems can be built-in -- peaceful co-existence -- then there may be room for a format war without a lot of pain.
That engineering challenge is now clearly at hand.
-- V/IDL --