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Which is Better... HD DVD or Blu-Ray Disc?
December 19th, 2007 by Joe Chianese
Last Update January 4th, 2008

Movie Studios' Role

To further complicate making a decision between HD DVD and Blu-Ray, the movie studios (like Paramount, Warner Brothers, etc.) have chosen sides of their own in the battle. Some of them support HD DVD, some Blu-Ray, and some both.

As of the time of writing this article, Universal Studios and Paramount (which includes DreamWorks Pictures) support HD DVD exclusively (updated January 4th, 2008 to reflect Warner Bros. going Blu-Ray exclusive, bringing New Line with them)

Blu-Ray has the backing of 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Films, MGM, Disney, New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and the Weinstein Company.

Unfortunately, it was announced on January 4th, 2008, that Warner Brothers would go Blu-Ray exclusive. Up until today, it supported both formats. This could spell doom for HD DVD, leaving it with the backing of just Universal and Paramount.

Aside from that, this is where you can really start to see the divide. Movies by Sony Pictures aren't available on HD DVD (and likely won't be unless Blu-Ray dies off) and neither are movies from Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, and Disney (add TimeWarner to that list). HD DVD is at a sore loss here by not having such massive studio support, but that will (hopefully) change in the near future. Even Disney and Fox have talked about considered making the switch to HD DVD, but without Warner Bros., the future looks bleak. Support for Blu-Ray seems to be steamrolling over HD DVD.

UPDATE: As of January 4th, 2008, Warner Brothers has announced exlusive Blu-Ray support for all their titles, ending their support of HD DVD in June of 2008. It looks like Sony just might come out on top here. But until all the studios back Blu-Ray exclusively, there is still some hope left for HD DVD. Paramount's exclusive deal with HD DVD runs out towards 2009, so until then, HD DVD will still be alive and kicking. Universal supports HD DVD alone at this point but we'll see if that changes in the future. If you're keeping score, HD DVD only has Paramount (which includes DreamWorks) and Universal support exclusively (or non-exclusively, for that matter), leaving Blu-Ray with over 70% of the market.

Market Numbers

At this time, its difficult to say who is winning by number of player or movie sales. The main problem is that the Sony PS3 comes equipped with a Blu-Ray player. This skews the market numbers because Sony includes sales of PS3's in their sales of Blu-Ray players. Microsoft has an HD DVD player addon for their Xbox 360 console but it is not included in the console package (purchased separately only).

Furthermore, both formats tend to give out a lot of free movies to gain sales. HD DVD has been notorious for including 3, 5, and even 10 free movies with the purchase of an HD DVD player.

Realistically, it is way too early to tell who is winning. Sony certainly has more of their players in consumers' homes (partly due to the PS3), but HD DVD has been selling well because of its drastically lower price. If you really wanted to compare numbers, there are far more Blu-Ray players in consumers' homes now because of the PS3. Blu-Ray discs are also out selling HD DVD (which would make sense, considering the number of Blu-Ray players out there). Blockbuster has acknowledged it is dropping most of its support for HD DVD since Blu-Ray is rented more often. I believe the numbers were something like 70/30 between Blu-Ray and HD DVD rentals. Netflix released some statistics stating that Blu-Ray titles received more hits on their website than HD DVD titles, yet more people were marking HD DVD as their preferred format (to avoid seeing Blu-Ray discs pop up on their screen).

It may sound like a grim scenario for HD DVD, but remember that less than 5% of the home video market belongs to either of the high definition formats yet (DVD still controls the majority of sales).

What makes it easier to swallow the loss of buying one unit over the other if that format ends up becoming obsolete? Price and compatibility.

DVD Compatibility, That Is

As you already know from earlier in this article, both of these formats support playing of regular DVD movies. What you might not know is that certain HD DVD titles are being sold as double sided discs; one side plays in an HD DVD player and one side plays in a regular DVD player. That means that you can start stock piling HD DVD titles before even purchasing an HD DVD player. And with prices hinting at going under $170 this year, once you purchase a unit (which will probably come with 5-10 free movies, practically paying for the unit itself), you won't have wasted nearly as much as you would have on a Blu-Ray player (double or more in price).

You've got to check out the HD DVD movies on a case-by-case basis to see which ones work in a regular DVD player. Don't be confused with this: when played in a regular DVD player, you are playing the actual DVD version of that movie. Its no sort of magic allowing you to play the high def counterpart in your standard DVD player. Wouldn't that be great, though.

>>Next: The Future of Digital Mediums (3)

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