Is this what the end of a format war looks like?

First Blockbuster announced plans to go exclusively Blu-Ray. Then Warner Brothers did the same, and recently a rumor floated of Best Buy phasing out HD-DVD. Now we’ve got definitive word that Netflix is dropping HD-DVD to concentrate exclusively on Blu-Ray. Steve Jobs even concedes that Sony’s format came out on top, though he agrees with Devin that downloads are the real future.

Selections from the Netflix press release hosted at Coming Soon:

With the industry now having picked a winner in the face-off between the two competing high- definition DVD formats, Netflix, Inc., the world’s largest online movie rental service, today said that it will move toward stocking high-def DVDs exclusively in the Blu-ray format.

Citing the decision by four of the six major movie studios to publish high-def DVD titles only in the Sony-developed Blu-ray format, Netflix said that as of now it will purchase only Blu-ray discs and will phase out by roughly year’s end the alternative high-def format, HD DVD, developed by Toshiba.

There’s one holdout that could keep HD-DVD above ground at least through the year: Wal-Mart. While the reports last year of the chain heavily investing in cheap HD-DVD players turned out to be bunk, the stores continue to stock the format. For now.

In the meantime, this will prove also to be a good barometer of Netflix’s importance. The company is already culturally synonymous with DVD, but is it enough of a market force to be the final blow?

Regardless, unless you’ve got Toshiba stock, the death of one high-def DVD format is great news. With the format war over (the disc VS disc one, at least) we might see more weight thrown behind high def discs, which means more plentiful releases and therefore more high def transfers. Hopefully that crop will show as much improvement as standard DVD transfers have in recent years.

Yes, downloads are the eventual future. There’s no fighting it. But if we’re going to have HD downloads we need good HD masters and right now, a single high-def DVD format is the fastest way to get them.