Looking at the world of media: from music to RIA.

Betamax v2.0?

January 6th, 2006 Posted in Distribution, Film, General Media / Stuff

Being a self-described technofile I like to keep my eye on new technologies and watch them mature into real products. One of the hot topics that are finally starting to make waves is the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD battle. Blu-Ray is Sony’s high capacity DVD media format that will allow distribution of HD content (ex: HD film transferred movies). HD-DVD is Toshiba’s offering of a very similar technology. The hitch? Neither format is compatible with the other’s, so once again we are seeing a Betamax vs. VHS battle royal.

Jack Shofield wrote an interesting article over at the Gaurdian about how VHS trumped Betamax and took over the market. The points that Jack made back in 2003 are really important in the upcoming Blu-ray/HD-DVD consumer battle in 2006 and the success of “the whole product”.

This week we have seen the gauntlets thrown down and all the media producer juggernauts are throwing their hat into the ring. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Sony rolled out their first Blu-Ray consumer players, Toshiba is showing off their HD-DVD Players, HD-DVD backers such as Warner and Universal are promising 24 movies on March 28th and Blu-ray backers such as Fox, Lionsgate, and of course Sony are promising 20 some titles when Blu-ray is launched. Some companies, such as HP are not taking a specific side and are offering both formats, but the lines are being drawn.

Looking at the current DVD world, many people have huge collections of movies and the hard core fans will start to port their collection over to the new technologies. But, in the meantime will consumers want to have multiple players to view both their new and old content? Or would they prefer convenience of one player that supports both new and old DVDs?

An interesting tidbit about HD-DVD is that the format provides backwards compatibility with standard DVD formats. Backwards compatibility is a huge advantage and is considered one of the key points to the Playstation 2’s success over the Gamecube and Xbox.

Why do I bring up game consoles? Well, here is the perfect example of content is king. When PS2 launched it had the ability to play all of the PS1 catalog. So right out of the gate PS2 owners had a massive selection of titles to choose from, and if you already owned a PS1 you could play those games on just one machine and not have both your PS1 and 2 set up at the same time, proving that customer convenience is a selling point.

Continuing on the console topic, Microsoft announced yesterday that they would be releasing a new HD-DVD player for the Xbox 360. In my mind, this could be a huge blow to Sony and both their Blu-ray technology and the upcoming PS3. When the 360 launched in November, Microsoft announced that they would not be including an HD media technology in the console. I feel this was a brilliant move because at the time there wasn’t really any public backing of either technology by media producers. One of Microsoft’s goals is to make the 360 a next generation entertainment media center that is the core of the HD system. For them to put a stake in the ground before any public announcements by the media giants would be a risky gamble, especially if the media producers choose the opposite technology Microsoft picked.

Now that a lot of the major studios are picking sides, Microsoft is throwing in their chips and this may help swing other studio’s choices in future media production. If you look at it this way, a studio wants to make an offering to the largest consumer base that wants HD content. Because the 360 is so HD centric, this means many of the owners of the Xbox will have HD TVs and therefore the system owners will want HD content. Now that Microsoft has established the 360 as a hit (some will debate the reality of this, but for arguments sake let’s say it is considered a marketing success) then studio’s will want to produce media in the format that the 360 supports because it is one of the earliest HD market player penetrations.

From what I have been reading it really looks like HD-DVD is jumping into a strong lead. But, Sony still has some cards up its sleeve. The PS3 is in the wings and having a huge base a fans this could be a huge boost to Blu-ray. On top of this, Sony is a major movie producer and they have also been buying rights to many major titles over the years. In 2004, Sony bought MGM and received licensing rights to such franchises as James Bond. While Sony was buying rights they were also investing in firms that specialize in super high resolution film transfer technology that will actually produce much higher scans then even today’s HD can support. This all boils back to content… if the movies you want are in a specific format you will buy that format.

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