Monday, June 18, 2007

Blockbuster Backs Blu-ray

The high-definition DVD format war persists, with no clear winner in sight (of course, this is depending on who you ask!) But we’re finally seeing retailers put their foot down, and choose one format over the other. In the case of Blockbuster, it has decided to put all of its eggs in the Blu-ray basket.

Well, not entirely: the movie/video game rental chain says it will still carry HD DVD in its U.S. stores, but will only rent movies in the Blu-ray format. According to BBC News, Blockbuster observed that its customers chose Blu-ray over HD DVD in stores where both formats were available. No exact figures were cited, but it's obvious by Blockbuster's choice to go Blu-ray all the way that it was by a significant enough margin.

This could be attributed to many factors: more choice in Blu-ray movies is one. Blu-ray has the support of seven of the eight major studios; whereas HD DVD only has three. However, the HD DVD format has support from many in the PC arena, like Microsoft, HP, and Intel.

Blu-ray has also had better luck with recent releases: the two huge blockbuster titles (no pun intended) as of late, Spiderman (Sony Pictures) and Casino Royale (MGM), are only available in HD in the Blu-ray format.

PlayStation 3 might also play a significant role: I wonder how many of those rented Blockbuster movies are being played back on a family PS3, and not a dedicated Blu-ray player? (Then again, the competing Xbox 360 console also has an HD DVD add-on option, so this might be a moot point).

On the HD DVD side, retail giant Wal-Mart said back in April that it would introduce “low-cost” HD DVD players to its U.S. stores by the end of the year, which led many to assume that Wal-Mart had made its choice. (A representative from Wal-Mart Canada confirmed that the retailer woud continue to carry both formats in Canada).

What do I think? When it comes down to it, it’s the movie titles that matter. Who wants a fantastic, high-definition player if you can’t use it to watch the movies you want? However, on the flip side, another important factor is price, and Blu-ray players have been much more expensive than HD DVD players; in many cases, by a significant margin. With “low-cost” players being introduced in Wal-Mart, a whole new ballgame could begin.

Who will win the format war? Some say it’s too soon to make a choice between the two. After all, they haven’t been on store shelves for that long. But on the other hand, how long can they co-exist without frustrating customers to no end? Only time will tell.

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