video reporter

Next-gen DVD tussle battering player price

The format war between Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD has been vilified by both camps and mercilessly crucified in the media. Critics, myself included, have blamed the format war for confusing consumers and hampering the mass adoption of a next- generation, high-definition optical-disc format simply because there is no single standard — as there was when DVD came on the market 10 years ago.

But lately, I've begun to think that perhaps the format war isn't so bad after all.

No, I haven't lost my mind. And I'm not saying the format war should go on indefinitely; I refuse to buy into the logic, expressed by some, that two movie-viewing formats can peacefully co-exist forever, like PlayStation and Xbox or PCs and Macs.

All I am saying is that in this stage in the life cycle of high-definition packaged media, there's a positive aspect to having two rival formats vying to become the standard, for two reasons:

First, it has helped drive down hardware prices a lot faster than if only one format was in the market. An argument could be made that it was Toshiba's lowball pricing of its entry-level HD-DVD player, now listing for $299 (with rebates), that prompted Blu-ray Disc manufacturers, including price-conscious Sony, to cave in and slash prices on Blu-ray players. As one high-ranking studio executive, who supports both formats, recently said, "If it wasn't for Toshiba, Blu-ray players would still be $1,000 and up, and we'd be looking at a laserdisc technology rather than something for the mass market."

Second, it increases consumer awareness of high-def discs. While individual Blu-ray studios — most notably Fox, the Walt Disney Co. and Sony — have been revving up their own promotions on behalf of the format, the umbrella Blu-ray Disc Assn. has been limping along. Blame it on the fact that there are so many CE manufacturers rolled up into the association that it's virtually impossible to get anything done. The scrappy North American HD DVD Promotional Group, on the other hand, has been pumping up "The Look and Sound of Perfect" all over the place, undoubtedly spurring the Blu-ray studios to take promotional matters into their own hands.

Granted, the fact that two rival formats are slugging it out in the market is confusing consumers and keeping many of them from buying either format until the dust settles. But it also can be argued that if there were just one format in the market, it would be stymied by overpriced hardware and a bumbling promotional campaign.

Which is the lesser of two evils? Hard to say.

T.K. Arnold can be reached at tarnold@aol.com.
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