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Ddawg
14th January 2007, 06:51
Blu-ray vs. HD DVD: The War Rages On (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nf/20070112/bs_nf/49319)
David Garrett, newsfactor.com (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/nf/bs_nf/byline/49319/21556626/SIG=10r33ca9a/*http://www.newsfactor.com)

"War" is a well-known and well-worn term in the tech industry. Witness the browser wars in which Microsoft and Mozilla vie for control over how you view the Web. The gaming wars refer to the three-way fight between Microsoft (a frequent combatant), Nintendo, and Sony, each of which sells a next-gen gaming console that flew off the shelves in the shopping frenzy of the 2006 holiday season.

And let's not forget the format wars over high-def DVDs. In one corner is a consortium led by Sony, which backs the Blu-ray format, so named for the color of the laser that reads and writes it. In the other corner stands Toshiba and its partners, makers of HD DVD. The battle, as so many have noted, can be likened to the decades-past throwdown between Betamax and VHS.

But this war is light on bloodshed. Indeed, recent market trends suggest the best word to describe it could be "stalemate." Neither Blu-ray nor HD DVD has gained a decisive advantage, despite the fact that most experts, pundits, and members of the press believed that one format would surely have won by now.

Pros and Cons

"For the most part, even from an industry standpoint, they're functionally equivalent, and that's the problem," said Steve Kovsky, a high-def expert at research firm Current Analysis. "There are minor advantages to each, and thus minor disadvantages to each."

Both Blu-ray and HD DVD offer eye-popping visuals that can add sizzle to the high-def TVs consumers began to buy en masse last year. Each takes advantage of 1080p. The "1080" is a measure of a screen's resolution; the "p" stands for progressive, a method of displaying the image. Heavy hitters in digital film -- George Lucas was among the first -- use this resolution to ensure the sharpest picture for everything from landscapes to light sabers.

Sony's Blu-ray format stores more data, which lets studios pack more features on a DVD. But even the average DVD has more features than most viewers watch now, with subtitles (or soundtracks) in three and four languages, voiceovers and commentaries from actors and directors, deleted scenes, cast bios, and more.

In an attempt to break the stalemate, Sony recently packaged a Blu-ray drive in its PlayStation 3, letting gamers, who by definition are eye-candy addicts, watch high-def films, too.

In contrast, Toshiba's HD DVD format is less expensive, not only to make but also to buy. The average HD DVD player costs $600, give or take. Compare this to the $1,000 price tag of a Blue-ray drive.

But even $400 might not make a difference, according to Kovsky. "HD DVD does have a cost advantage, but it's still more expensive than what most people are willing to pay," he said, adding that few consumers are willing to spend money on a format they don't know will last. "If you don't have a warm and fuzzy about that, you won't drop $650 on the next 8-track," he said.

Price War?

In the end, of course, it could still be price that wins the day. Price could be decisive if one camp finds a way to sell high-def players at a price point close to today's high-end (but standard) DVDs, what Kovsky calls the "sweet spot of what consumers are willing to pay for a device like that."

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LG Electronics released a player that supports both the Blu-ray and the HD DVD formats, and Warner Brothers announced a "Total Hi-Def" disc that packs both formats into a single DVD, so that consumers don't have to choose.

But until one format finds a decisive edge, consumers will most likely spend their dollars on high-def TVs, not high-def DVD players. "They do it because they have the confidence that they're going to be able to hang on to this thing for quite a few years and get a lot of service out of it," said Kovsky. "It's not going to become obsolete