Sound Advice: Blu-ray wins in format war, but at what cost?

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In the past I have strongly recommended the HD DVD format as the best choice for consumers. Surprising developments this month led Warner Bros. to drop support for the format, which likely will lead to a Blu-ray victory in the format war. I started receiving inside information about a week before it happened and will recount the story here.

Warner Bros. publishes on both HD DVD and Blu-ray and found the "format war" was not only slowing the adoption of high-definition discs, but also hurting their regular DVD sales -- clearly an untenable situation for them. They wanted to bring the format war to a quick close by picking a side.

If they chose HD DVD, studio support would be roughly equal but would likely go HD DVD's way eventually, as Warner is the biggest producer of high-definition discs. If they chose Blu-ray, studio support for Blu-ray would be lopsided and the war would end more quickly.

When rumors started flying publicly, I e-mailed Jim Noonan, a Warner Bros. vice president, who immediately replied that they had not decided to change their policy. A WB executive in New Zealand issued an even stronger public statement denying imminent changes.

Obviously, they had decided to change -- they just didn't know the direction. Given their long partnership, Warner gave Toshiba an opportunity to lure a Blu-ray studio to HD DVD, in which case they would go HD DVD exclusive and give HD DVD a clear studio advantage. This did not happen, despite much-rumored negotiations, and Warner went with Blu-ray.

With no studio joining them on the HD DVD side, Warner's hand was forced and it went with Blu-ray, receiving a reported $500 million for doing so.

Obviously I am saddened by the implications for my readers, the industry and consumers, but still believe I recommended the better, more solid format, which was much more affordable, as well.

I was at their booth at the Consumer Electronics Show and regretted I could not find a single stand-alone player worthy of recommendation -- and if HD DVD goes away, the cost of entry to high-definition movies will be doubled. It's sad for the consumer, really.

My mind and my heart were in agreement that HD DVD was the way to go. To not recommend HD DVD would not be true to my own convictions, and it would be unfair of me to not recognize Toshiba's accomplishment in bringing an affordable, fully developed product to market.

Many in the industry agreed with me, and no one in the media expected Warner to pull the plug so quickly when HD DVD stand-alones were selling so well this holiday season. As for my future course, I will recommend the Playstation 3 to people who want Blu-ray until fully specified Blu-ray Profile 2.0 players are available and their performance matches the PS3.

Q: Do you recommend any HDTV calibration discs to fine tune a plasma 1080p HDTV connected to Comcast HDTV cable? If you do, which discs do you recommend?

DAVE DUZMAL
San Jose, Calif.

A: Digital Video Essentials is considered the best. Please be aware that modern TVs allow you to have different picture settings for each input, to allow for differences between components, so adjust the settings on each input for best results.


Don Lindich is a national columnist and creator of the "Digital Made Easy" book series. Send him your questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com .


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