End of the High-Def Format War: Five Pros and Cons for the Consumer

Blu-ray battled HD DVD to the death to win the high-def format war. What's ahead now for the average user? Here are our expert's pros and cons.

Blu-ray battled HD DVD to the death to win the high-def format war. What's ahead now for the average user? Here are our expert's pros and cons.

There's no question that the next-generation DVD, high-definition format war has been a detriment to consumers. Ever since Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD movies and hardware came to market in 2006, the cloud of uncertainty has hung heavy over both formats, constraining growth as wary consumers watched from the sidelines.

With Toshiba's withdrawal today from producing HD DVD players and PC drives, the format war has come to abrupt end — and consumers everywhere can breathe easier as they whip out a credit card to buy a Blu-ray player.

But it's not all good news for consumers. Now that the war is over, I can see both pros and cons. Here are some to consider.

Pro: One Format Rules Them All

With HD DVD's withdrawal, all movie studios will release their content on Blu-ray. That means when you buy a Blu-ray Disc player, you will be able to buy it with the confidence that all of the movies you'll want to see or buy — regardless of what studio produced and distributed the film — will be available on that format.

Pro: Your Movie Collection Will Play in Your Player

Buy high-def movies today, and know that those discs won't become tomorrow's Frisbees. That said, you still have a bit of buyer beware here: Older Blu-ray Disc players still remain on the market that don't support Blu-ray's Bonus View (also known by its former code-name, Profile 1.1). Such players won't be able to play back the picture-in-picture and other extra features that Bonus View provides, but they will play the movies.

Con: Price Drops Will Slow

When trying to win the war, Toshiba pushed prices on HD DVD equipment down artificially fast. Without the intense price competition from Toshiba's HD DVD players, we're not going to see the speedy drop in prices on Blu-ray players that we've seen in the previous two years.

In 2006, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average player price was US$500. This is a number that I personally find incredibly low given that Blu-ray players were introduced in the summer and autumn of 2006 at US$1000. (HD DVD players cost less, and so clearly dominated the early sales if the average unit sales price still came out at US$500). Fast forward to 2007: The average selling price dropped to US$395. In 2008, the CEA expects the average player price to drop to US$307.

Con: There Are Fewer Deals to Be Had

Think high-def TVs bundled with Blu-ray players. Think aggressive buy-one, get-one-free disc deals. I don't imagine Blu-ray's backers will completely drop such initiatives — after all, they have a vested interest in converting users to the new formats. But I fully expect we'll see fewer such promotions, and that they'll be used more judiciously than they have been in what has turned out to be the last few months of the format war.

Pro and Con: Expect to Find HD DVD Movies and Hardware on the Cheap

Toshiba says it is working closely and communicating directly with its retailers on next steps. The company will begin to reduce shipments of HD DVD players to retails channels, aiming for cessation by the end of March 2008. Presumably players will be sold on the cheap.

US-based Best Buy spokesperson Brian Lucas says his company doesn't have any immediate plans to pull HD DVD product off the shelves at this point. "Customers who still want to purchase HD-DVD movies will be able to come to our stores to do so. But we anticipate demand will drop considerably, and as demand dries up for HD-DVD products you will start to see us pull them from our shelves," Lucas says.

If you see an HD DVD player — specifically the A35 or the A30 — for about US$100, you'd be getting a good upconverting DVD player for the price (upconversion enhances your DVD movie viewing pleasure). But that's still a higher price than some upconverting 1080p DVD players, so buyer beware.

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