I’ll start this off with a Disclaimer: I own HD DVD and Blu-ray players and several titles on each format. I have no bias or real favor towards one or the other (though I was previously leaning toward HD DVD for reasons I will explain shortly). Unfortunately, such disclaimers are necessary… because this “format war” seems to bring out nothing but myopic cheerleaders for one side or the other.
That said, recent events have clearly tilted things toward Sony’s favor (probably for good) with the stunning announcement by Warner Brothers that they will be dropping format neutrality and joining the Blu-ray camp exclusively, joining the likes of Sony (duh), Fox, Disney, Lionsgate, Anchor Bay and others. For the time being, Universal, DreamWorks and Paramount remain dedicated to HD DVD and other smaller labels (like BBC) pledge to remain neutral. But who can believe anything that any one of these studio says on the matter anymore?
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the Warner Brothers announcement was not only the timing (catching everyone off guard at the CES trade show) but that it came on the heels of consistent denials of the very same thing. In other words, Warners flat out fucking lied. And not only to curious consumers, but by many reports to Toshiba and the HD DVD group as well. And rumors swirl that part of the reason the deal went down is because Fox refused to join the HD DVD camp because the greedy bastards dislike the region-free nature of that format.
And that touches upon the main reason why I was slightly leaning toward HD DVD: it is (or was) by far the more consumer-friendly of the two formats. Not only were the titles priced more reasonably on average, they also seemed to be more keen to include value-added content and take more advantage of new technologies, such as internet integration. And then there was the region-free factor. That I could log on to one of the foreign Amazon sites or another overseas home video vendor and purchase movies like “The Elephant Man” on HD DVD was no small potatoes. Because HD DVD is region-free, any of its titles purchased from anywhere on the globe can be played in a standard HD DVD player. And this is what was making control-freaky studios like Fox grit their teeth. They cite concern over copy protection, but the main reason why they (and thus the Blu-ray group) don’t want their discs region-free is because it opens up even more options for savvy consumers who could purchase their movies from more than just one market.
Several days after the WB-to-Blu-ray announcement Fox then announced one of their more-requested titles on Blu-ray: Predator. The problem? Not only does the single-disc release come with a $39.98 MSRP, its sole bonus feature is a trailer (and trailers for other Fox movies). Wow. Is this telling? I certainly hope not.
Some claim that Blu-ray has the technical advantage of the two formats. In my experience, the quality of the HD transfers and lossless soundtracks on the two formats has varied from title-to-title. Some Blu-ray discs are more impressive than HD DVD, and vice versa. So, for me, the difference was starting to come down to the reasons I cited above. Sure, the first generation of Blu-ray discs could hold almost twice as much data as their HD DVD counterparts. But just what is the big fucking deal about a disc that can hold 50 GB worth of data when you release a movie (like Predator, for example) that doesn’t even include a smidgen of the extra material that its standard DVD edition had? And don’t bring the “they use that extra space for the transfer and sound quality” crap, because it simply is not the case in most of these releases.
This sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? I promise you it isn’t. As I stated earlier, I invested in BOTH of the formats and while I was starting to prefer HD DVD as a consumer I really could care less which format wins the war. In fact, the rhetoric and biased bullshit from both camps and their acolytes has become so insufferable I almost wish both would fail and we were “stuck” with standard DVD and all its limitations.
But this is where things stand today… with Sony and Blu-ray on the cusp of claiming the mountain and ownership over HD software. And you know what? That’s fine, as long as they take some pages out of HD DVD’s book and start giving us more bang for our bucks (and, also, more freedom and options). But if they’re the only kid in town what will motivate them to do so?
The format war may have seen its D-Day and decisive victory recently. A bunch of 13-16 year olds with their PS3’s led by the pied pipers at TheDigitalBits and scores of Sony plants laid the groundwork… and Warner Brothers dropped the big one. Whether we will end up applauding or flicking these folks off is the question.