Blu-ray beats HD DVD -- now what?

The Blu-ray format always offered more capacity over HD DVD

So the high-definition DVD war's over, and to the victor go the spoils.

Now that Sony's Blu-ray Disc DVD format has beat out Toshiba's HD DVD , the question arises: Just what spoils are there? Many consumers have been put off by the high-definition DVD format wars, leaving sales of both formats sluggish at best. Some are speculating that because of the end to the war, sales will pick up. Let's look at some of the numbers.

Last year, about 32 million DVD players were sold in the US; of those, only 4 per cent, or 1.5 million were high-definition DVD players. Blu-ray Disc players accounted for 578,000 of that number and HD-DVD accounted for 370,000, according to Adams Media Research. That's almost a 2-to-1 ratio. After Warner Brothers pulled its support of HD DVD last month, the percentage of Blu-ray to HD DVD sales skyrocketed. Blu-ray accounted for 93 per cent of hi-def DVD hardware sales in North America in the week after Warner's announcement -- although the overall number was small: 21,770 players. Multiply those sales out over the full year and you're still looking at just over 1 million hi-def players sold.

After the news broke Monday that HD DVD was about to raise the white flag, geek news site Slashdot.com put up an impromptu poll for its readers asking, "Now That Blu-ray Has Won ...?"

Almost half of 28,000 respondents at the time of this story's publishing said they still aren't convinced high-definition DVD is worth the upgrade from traditional DVD technology. The next biggest group of respondents said they are still waiting for high-definition downloads. Geeks tend to be early adopters of technology, so this poll could be very telling.

So what was the big difference between HD DVD and Blu-ray?

In a word: capacity. HD DVD offers 15GB capacity on a single-layer platter, while Blu-ray offers 25GB. More capacity means more data; more data generally means better images and better sound when it comes to hi-def movies.

From a manufacturing standpoint, HD DVD had it all over Blu-ray in that machines used to press standard DVDs could also be used to produce HD DVD discs with just minor tweaking. Blu-ray, on the other hand, required DVD manufacturers to change out their disc-pressing equipment, vastly increasing start-up costs. That also explains how HD DVD made it to market before Blu-ray.

What pushed Blu-ray to win the format wars?

From the start, Blu-ray had an edge over HD DVD because Sony's PlayStation 3 (the most popular gaming console) came with a Blu-ray player. The more PS3s sold, the more Blu-ray players were in people's hands. Contrast that with HD DVD, which was paired with Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console.

Over time, more and more movie studios, electronics manufacturers and retailers began throwing their weight behind Blu-ray. Many studios, such as Warner Brothers, which had supported both formats, recently pulled their support of HD DVD for Blu-ray exclusivity. Others quickly followed Warner Bros' lead. As of last week, Blu-ray had the exclusive support of Twentieth Century Fox and Walt Disney, as well as major electronic manufacturers such as Apple Computer, Dell, HP, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp. Wal-Mart, Netflix, Target and Blockbuster also sided with Blu-ray.

"People buy high definition DVD players to watch movies, and without the support of the studios, there was no way HD DVD could survive for long," explains ABI Research analyst Serene Fong.

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Lucas Mearian

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