AMSTERDAM, Netherlands The format battle among Hollywood studios and consumer electronics giants over control of the high-definition DVD market boils down to three words: "Confusion, confusion, confusion!"
That was the conclusion of panelists at the International Broadcast Conference which opened here on Thursday (Sept. 6). The video-disk industry insiders shared a litany of complaints based on the the HD DVD-Blue-ray Disc format war. The bloodless war's main combatants are Toshiba, creator of HD DVD, which is supported by Paramount and Dreamworks, versus Sony, which has sold most of the other Hollywood studios on Blu-ray.
The wild card in the dispute is Time Warner, inventor of the dual-format "Total HD" disk, reportedly due for a delayed launch in 2008, which will offer 25 gigabytes of Blu-ray on one side and HD-DVD on the other. This capacity represents only half the gigabytes demanded by most Blu-ray-affiliated content providers, a deficiency that prompted one panelist, Lesley Johnson, head of Production for 2Entertain of the U.K., to note, "This just seems to me to be another confusion. It's two disks just stuck together."
Jim Bottoms, co-founder of Understanding & Solutions, provided the bottom line on the critical issue of befuddling the consumer. "The longer the confusion exists for mass market consumers, they will want one format," he said. "If the market does not have a one-format solution within 18 months, the consumer will start to turn away."
When that happens, Bottoms warned, "There's a real danger that all this investment will be wasted."
Not all the panelists agreed with that estimate. Laurent Villaume, president of QOL, France, predicted that the two-format struggle will last into 2011, when--according to his company's research--40 percent of households in the U.S. will have some installed HD capacity, and the Blu-ray/HD-DVD market split will probably be about 60/40. "It's impossible to think," Villaume said, "that one format will be dead within this timeframe."
For now, according to Bottoms, Blu-ray commands 58 percent of industry support within the still embryonic high-definition disk market, with HD-DVD at 23 percent and Warner, supporting both formats, representing the other 19 percent.
One issue is settled, however. Although many consumers still can't define the difference between standard- and high-definition video, they finally want it. "Tomorrow," said Villaume, "high definition will be the rule." This trend has been accelerated by a proliferation of large-screen, flat-panel TV displays that tend to highlight the flaws in standard-definition video. HD game consoles, PCs and even camcorders, among other products, have joined the parade.