Another war over (and a new fab just begun)
The whole notion of writing about an end to war is so delightful, it's no wonder everyone wants to chime in. (Or, everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.)
Too bad this was just a format war, in which big bucks -- and perhaps a few careers -- but no lives were at stake. Speaking of bucks, Sony reportedly paid Warner Bros. some $400 million to get the exclusive Blu-ray release of their new films -- this was what ultimately tipped the tables so in Sony's favor as to make HD DVD's future untenable. (See Lesson of high-def DVD war: It's the ecosystem, stupid.)
Was it just coincidence, then, that in the same week of HD DVD's demise, Sony and Toshiba announced details of how they are jointly spending some $835 million on the construction of a new fab to make chips for Sony PlayStation consoles? (See Toshiba, Sony tip details on fab venture.) Looks like the hatchet is buried.
It all begs the question: What kind of format war was this? Sorry to come off sounding like a curmudgeon, but in the old days, weren't format wars decided, at least in part, by consumers?
To be honest, I feel a bit saddened by this relatively quick resolution. I thought the multi-format players, as introduced by LG and Samsung, represented the future, and would create an environment in which consumers could enjoy the benefits of competition between the two formats. When buying standard def DVDs, consumers already seem to handle the availability of two versions of each movie -- normal and wide screen. For studios, the multi-format player meant they wouldn't necessarily have to release each film in both formats -- each studio could be exclusive in format, yet the consumer wouldn't suffer.
The DVD+R/W and DVD-R/W format war provides a good example of an unresolved conflict that has gone on for years. As soon as the premium for dual-compatibility dropped down to just 20 or 30 percent more than single format drives, the issue became moot, and practically all DVD recorders and disc drives now feature multi-format compatibility.
But when a huge company like Sony, owner of a major Hollywood studio, pays another Hollywood studio almost half a billion dollars to take its side in a format war, clearly the consumer's voice is of little interest.
In any event, despite my misgivings about supposed consumer benefits, for designers of high def DVD gear this is good news. The gambling is over. Manufacturers of hi-def DVD hardware now have a clear direction. The cost of licensing for a single format, no matter how much gouging occurs, will surely be less than it would be for two. And for the time being, there's a window of opportunity, too. Blu-ray has not yet devolved to commodity status.
As has occurred with standard def DVD, there will continue to be opportunity for manufacturers to distinguish their designs with innovative DVR/DVD combinations, superior video and audio processing, connectivity, exterior elegance and user convenience. As Blu-ray hardware retail prices sink, these advanced features will prove crucial.