The following article is a retrospective look back on the media format war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. The article spins off of an older piece by The Telegraph which we posted on our site here.
In 2014, the battle between Sony Blu-Ray and HD-DVD seems like ancient history and such a thing of the past. We get our high-definition videos in Blu-Ray nowadays and it looks like we couldn’t be happier about it; in fact, many avid video consumers out there may have never even heard about the alternative to this format that once existed. Not only did it exist, but it was also a viable alternative to Blu-Ray. So, what happened? How did Sony’s Blu-Ray manage to ‘win the war’ of the two media formats? Read on to learn all about it.
How the industry giants influenced the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD
Major brands at war
Throughout the years, some of the biggest names in media and technology were involved in the Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD war: entities such as HP, Dell, Toshiba, Fox, Warner Brothers, and many others. By 2008, however, the war was over and Sony’s Blu-Ray had won it. Toshiba sealed the deal early on that year, by announcing it was no longer producing HD-DVD format discs. Warner Bros had made a similar announcement in January of the same year. Major companies in the field, such as Netflix, Wal Mart, and Best Buy, had already made such pledges, thus bringing Sony one step closer to reverting the loss it had suffered when its Betamax video format had been vanquished by JVC’s VHS in the 1980’s.
A look even further back goes to show that the conflict never really was balanced. HD-DVD had had Toshiba, Microsoft, Paramount Pictures and Universal in its corner, while Blu-Ray had just about all the other major studios in Hollywood churning out Blu-Ray movies, plus a host of tech brands (Sony, of course, but also Dell, HP, Apple, and Philips). And while sales for stand-alone players didn’t take off on either side of the fence, as consumers were understandably weary about investing into technologies that might turn out to be obsolete, gaming consoles were game changers. 3.2 million PS3s were sold in Europe, plus 34,000 Blu-Ray players, compared to the paltry 55,000 HD-DVD players, including the add-ons for the xBox 360 (read below for more info on pricing and other stats according to which the two consoles were compared).
xBox 360 v PS3
Now, let’s take a step back in time to 2006, just as Sony and Microsoft were getting ready to go head to head, pitting the PS3 against the xBox 360. Gamers around the world were on the edge of their seats, in anticipation of what the two consoles had to offer, but, at the time, some looked to them for upgrades in movie and music performance. Nearly eight years ago, gamers and non-gamers alike criticized both the wait, as well as the steep price tag on the Blu-Ray drive-enabled PS3. Others, however, were appreciative of the advantage: films in Blu-Ray format could be played with a picture quality that was six times higher than that of a regular DVD. And not only was the PS3 the first Blu-Ray player from Sony, but, at the time of its launch, it was also the only such device priced well below the then-standard amount of $1,000. At the time, Microsoft tried to counter the competition, by launching an add-on drive for its xBox 360, which, when connected via USB to the console, could play HD-DVD format films. The accessory added a $200 price to the total amount payable for the device, thus bringing it to $600 – which is as much as the PS3 cost back then.
Entertainment-focused reviewers were quick to analyze the similarities and differences between the two consoles; while they agreed that both formats for high definition video were good, they couldn’t help but notice the different experiences the devices offered. The PS3 offered users seamless playback off its own hard drive, while the xBox was network-oriented. The PS3 scrolled very quickly through the users’ photo collection, but, on the other hand, didn’t account for the fact that users no longer carried music on CDs much – not even in 2006. The xBox took mp3s into consideration and also had a great online community established – however, unlike the PS3, it came with no browser of its own and, at times, felt rough around the edges in terms of design.
What if HD-DVD had become the prominent media for high definition movies?
What if history had gone down differently? What if HD-DVD would have won out, or we’d have access to an xBox 360 Blu-Ray console today? Of course, today the feud may seem less important at first, given the widespread practice of movie downloads of the Internet – however, it’s worth bearing in mind that top quality videos peddled on the WWW are still Blu-Rays. Now, if HD-DVD had won out, things wouldn’t have been any different in terms of video quality, but they would have likely differed a great deal in points of pricing and fair use rights. See, HD-DVD and the companies backing it took a different approach to being friendly toward the consumer. Videos in this format came with no region coding and no obligation for either AACS or BD+. Such optical discs were also more affordable.
It’s interesting to peruse forums from way back in 2006 to 2008: many describe Sony as ‘the bad guy’ from the above-mentioned perspective. They are also quick to note that, unlike Hollywood films, sometimes the good guys don’t luck out. Of course, Blu-Ray’s win was no fluke and it was likely motivated both by rights holders’ interest, as well as by the studios’ drive to make as much money as they could from selling high quality videos on discs. And they got their way – but where does that leave the consumer? You tell us: what do you think would’ve happened if HD-DVD had won?