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Blu-ray poised to win DVD war

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Anand Parthasarathy

Major retailers and movie studios ditch HD DVD standard

BANGALORE: They were dubbed the ‘DVD wars,’ recalling the format rivalries in the video cassette business in the 1970s that finally saw VHS prevail over Betamax, but not before millions of customers had lost money by backing the losing standard.

For over a year now, the market place for high density digital versatile disks (DVDs) has seen two incompatible formats — Blu-ray and HD DVD — battle it out for consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets. Both high density formats kicked up the storage capacity of the DVD almost five fold, from 4.7 gigabytes (GB) to between 20 GB and 25 GB.

Blu-ray’s godfathers were Sony and Philips. HD DVD had Toshiba and Hitachi in its corner. And while consumers needed high density disks, if they were to enjoy the new high-definition movie formats, they were hassled by leading Hollywood studios supporting one or the other standard — Fox, Warner and Sony for Blu-ray; Paramount and Universal for HD DVD. This meant that some movies were issued in one format, others in another... and they needed different players to watch.

Now it seems the end of the confusion is in sight. Toshiba is reported to have decided on exiting the high density DVD business. This will leave the field open for Blu-ray — which might end up as Last Man Standing in the format battle over high density removable optical storage.

The withdrawal of Toshiba (which remains to be formally announced) may have been forced by the recent decision of one of its supporters, Warner Brothers to stop issuing films on HD DVD; as well as the announcement by large American retailers like WalMart and video rental players like NetFlix, to stock only one format — Blu-ray — in future.

Technology-wise, there is little to choose between the formats: HD DVDs are easier to produce for plants already churning out today’s DVDs, though the storage is slightly less than Blu-ray (15GB to 20 GB versus 23GB to 25 GB for Blu-ray, in the single layer and double these numbers for dual layer).

The big disk sellers seem to have used their clout to promote one over the other, essentially with a selfish motive. Faced with having to contend with two formats, month after month, customers seemed to say “a plague on both your houses!” and opted for direct downloads from the Internet, steering clear of both types of DVDs. This would have been fatal for the DVD retailing business. And so it has apparently plumped for one standard, to ensure that customers plumped for DVDs over direct downloads.

Indian customers, most of whom wisely decided on a ‘wait and watch’ policy, may shortly be able to buy HD players and recorders with the assurance their their investment will be protected.

The world’s second-largest manufacturers of optical media including CDs and DVDs , Noida-based Moser Baer, rolls out over 3.2 billion disks a year. Two years ago, it cannily hedged its bets and tooled up to manufacture both types of DVDs. Now, once the format issue is resolved — and this seems imminent — it is well placed to increase capacity sharply in the winning format to address the expected rise in demand worldwide.

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