October 4, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Studio bridges next-gen DVD divide

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With one studio at last breaking ranks to support multiple next-generation DVD formats, industry eyes are now turning to Hollywood to see if other moviemakers will try to defang an impending format war.

Seeking to hedge its bets in the tussle between two incompatible high-definition DVD formats, each of which have the backing of powerful technology and media companies, Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures said late Sunday that it would release movies in both new formats.

Previously, the studio had said it would release films only in the HD DVD format, along with Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures. By also agreeing to release an unspecified number of films in the competing Blu-ray format, backed by Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures and Disney, Paramount becomes the first studio to support both sides.

"We have been intrigued by the broad support of Blu-ray," Thomas Lesinski, president of the studio's home entertainment division, said in a statement. "After more detailed assessment and new data on cost, manufacturability and copy-protection solutions, we have now made the decision to move ahead with the Blu-ray format."

With considerable momentum building behind Blu-ray--checked somewhat by last week's announcement that Microsoft and Intel would support HD DVD--many in the industry are now watching for signs of similar compromise from Universal or Warner. Executives at both studios could not be reached for immediate comment on the issue.

Paramount's move is nowhere near a truce in a format battle that holds the potential to be as painful as the old Betamax versus VHS debates. But the announcement is a welcome sign for consumers wary of the consequences of picking sides.

Both formats, each of which will provide enough space to store crystal-clear high-definition movies, are expected to launch next year. The prospect of having two separate formats, with different content available for each, has sent a chill through consumers and video rental store owners unwilling to risk investing in a technology that could be rendered quickly obsolete.

Related story
All eyes on DVDs' format war
The pictures are crystal-clear, but the real-life future of high-definition DVDs remains foggy.
The split is the result of two separate technology initiatives, both with the goal of replacing today's popular DVD format, maturing at roughly the same time.

The HD DVD camp, led by consumer electronics giant Toshiba, vows that its format will be easier and cheaper to produce, because it is closer to today's existing DVD format and can draw from some of the same manufacturing techniques. It will come in one-layer 15GB and double-layer 30GB formats, with a 45GB version also planned.

Blu-ray, which is backed by Sony, is a more substantial reworking of the old DVD format, and will provide 25GB and 50GB versions. Both camps say they will provide a "hybrid disc," with a high-definition disc on one side and a traditional DVD on the other, so that consumers can play movies on their old DVD players.

No truce in sight
It's rare to find anybody in either camp who thinks the split is a good idea. Analysts routinely say that the battling formats will keep consumers away from store shelves, leery of buying the DVD equivalent of the Betamax, and finding their expensive new machines become quickly obsolete.

Indeed, analyst firm Sanford C. Bernstein recently predicted that media companies could forgo as much as $16 billion over seven years if they wind up in a format battle, instead of taking an extra two years to work out a compromise.

Some hope of a truce did emerge earlier in the year, as executives from both camps publicly said they wanted to find a way to merge the two formats. The two sides have been unable to reach agreement, however.

Paramount's announcement has been the single ray of compromise in several weeks of bitter words and hardening support on both sides.

Last week, Microsoft and Intel added their weight to the HD DVD camp, saying that the Toshiba format would have more capacity available in the early days, and would work better with their vision of movie copy protection.

Blu-ray backers, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, immediately contested the two companies' claims, saying that the copy-protection capabilities were equivalent, and that Microsoft and Intel were out of step with the "vast majority of the computer industry."

HD DVD format leader Toshiba, which is showing off its technology this week at the CEATAC Japan trade show in Tokyo, met Paramount's announcement Monday with similarly dismissive words.

"We understand that studios want to see precisely what will happen in the CE (consumer electronics) and IT (information technology) industries, and that they will want to support all potential markets for their products," the company said in a statement. "However, once HD DVD comes to market...it will not take long to know which format really delivers the benefits of high definition to the consumer."

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52 comments

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This is ridiculas.
These format wars are going to really hurt everyone. Consumers are going to be confused and frustrated which will probably lessen the chance of adoption of either format. These people need to come together and standardize on one format. I guarantee that if they can create one format it will take off like wild fire (after the prices drop abit).

I'm sure that at some point you will be able to buy players and eve recorders that support both formats, but until then the people stuck in the middle will be the consumer.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Confused Consumers?
i know that lots of pundits say "consumers are going to be confused", but i'm not certain that i agree with that. consumers are savvy enough (especially after 8-track/cassette and vhs/betamax) to know that before investing any real coin into digital media products that "last a lifetime" (eg, movies), they'd like some assurance that the media they chose will have players available for decades. no confusion: neither blue-ray nor hd-dvd offer that. good old dvd does (to wit, no one will dare offer a player that won't play it for quite a few years).

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Big Problem...
<<I guarantee that if they can create one format it will take off like wild fire (after the prices drop abit).>>

And here is the problem. With only one format, licensed from one owner, there is no pressure to reduce price. Price is going to drop rapidly as a result of competing formats. Remove the competition, and the consumer loses.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
This is ridiculas.
These format wars are going to really hurt everyone. Consumers are going to be confused and frustrated which will probably lessen the chance of adoption of either format. These people need to come together and standardize on one format. I guarantee that if they can create one format it will take off like wild fire (after the prices drop abit).

I'm sure that at some point you will be able to buy players and eve recorders that support both formats, but until then the people stuck in the middle will be the consumer.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Confused Consumers?
i know that lots of pundits say "consumers are going to be confused", but i'm not certain that i agree with that. consumers are savvy enough (especially after 8-track/cassette and vhs/betamax) to know that before investing any real coin into digital media products that "last a lifetime" (eg, movies), they'd like some assurance that the media they chose will have players available for decades. no confusion: neither blue-ray nor hd-dvd offer that. good old dvd does (to wit, no one will dare offer a player that won't play it for quite a few years).

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Big Problem...
<<I guarantee that if they can create one format it will take off like wild fire (after the prices drop abit).>>

And here is the problem. With only one format, licensed from one owner, there is no pressure to reduce price. Price is going to drop rapidly as a result of competing formats. Remove the competition, and the consumer loses.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
The Bigger the Better
We want the format that holds the most data.
It's better for backing up PCs, storing photos, home movies, and anything else.

Give us Blu-Ray or merge the best parts of both technologies, and please give us a single standard.

I don't want to buy two drives for my PC: one for backup, and another for making home movies.
Posted by randyjohns (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We Who??
<<We want the format that holds the most data.>>

We who? You got a mouse in your pocket? I'm looking for full decoder support from Operating System manufacturers and low cost along with maximum backwards compatibility for my existing DVDs and players. Tape still works fine for enormous data backups.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
The Bigger the Better
We want the format that holds the most data.
It's better for backing up PCs, storing photos, home movies, and anything else.

Give us Blu-Ray or merge the best parts of both technologies, and please give us a single standard.

I don't want to buy two drives for my PC: one for backup, and another for making home movies.
Posted by randyjohns (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We Who??
<<We want the format that holds the most data.>>

We who? You got a mouse in your pocket? I'm looking for full decoder support from Operating System manufacturers and low cost along with maximum backwards compatibility for my existing DVDs and players. Tape still works fine for enormous data backups.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Does Paramount Solve Anything?
if i'm spending lots of coin to buy movies, i would like some assurance that the material i buy will be playable in available players for awhile (think of where you'd play old betamax tapes today!). heh-heh--i'd like at least a few decades 'til i'm gone from this good life! so, i don't think paramount hedging their bet like this really helps the consumer. for the time being, good old dvd looks like the longevity champ.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Then go with HD-DVD
HD-DVD allows you to do managed copy, so even if the format looses the war, you can still hold copies for the media that you can read. Not true with blu ray. If it looses, you'll have to keep your old betam... er, blu ray, decoder at hand. On the other hand, if blu ray loses you'll be able to get a first generation PS3 for a dime...
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
Does Paramount Solve Anything?
if i'm spending lots of coin to buy movies, i would like some assurance that the material i buy will be playable in available players for awhile (think of where you'd play old betamax tapes today!). heh-heh--i'd like at least a few decades 'til i'm gone from this good life! so, i don't think paramount hedging their bet like this really helps the consumer. for the time being, good old dvd looks like the longevity champ.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Then go with HD-DVD
HD-DVD allows you to do managed copy, so even if the format looses the war, you can still hold copies for the media that you can read. Not true with blu ray. If it looses, you'll have to keep your old betam... er, blu ray, decoder at hand. On the other hand, if blu ray loses you'll be able to get a first generation PS3 for a dime...
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
I don't even think the new format is compelling enough
The only real benefit to upgrade from existing DVD is the improvement in quality. But I believe most people find the current DVD's quality more than acceptable.

The studios are pressing to get people to upgrade because the new disc will have newer copy protection.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nope....
... additional space is required to hold High Definition movies. The
8.7 Gbytes or so on a standard DVD is just not adequate.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
HD Tv owners would Disagree
Seeing that I own a 65 inch hd tv, I would have to disagree with you on people not wanting higher quality. I only get a few HD channels with Direct Tv atm, but the difference in quality is enormous. I can't wait to buy movies in 1080i, instead of watching them in 480p. But thats just my opinion.
Posted by Rolndubbs (194 comments )
Link Flag
I don't even think the new format is compelling enough
The only real benefit to upgrade from existing DVD is the improvement in quality. But I believe most people find the current DVD's quality more than acceptable.

The studios are pressing to get people to upgrade because the new disc will have newer copy protection.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nope....
... additional space is required to hold High Definition movies. The
8.7 Gbytes or so on a standard DVD is just not adequate.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
HD Tv owners would Disagree
Seeing that I own a 65 inch hd tv, I would have to disagree with you on people not wanting higher quality. I only get a few HD channels with Direct Tv atm, but the difference in quality is enormous. I can't wait to buy movies in 1080i, instead of watching them in 480p. But thats just my opinion.
Posted by Rolndubbs (194 comments )
Link Flag
Well, I for one...
Am not touching either format until one wins. This is just stupid. If the really cared about the consumer they would have one new format and get on with it. Stupid stupid stupid!

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, I for one...
Am not touching either format until one wins. This is just stupid. If the really cared about the consumer they would have one new format and get on with it. Stupid stupid stupid!

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the chicken or the egg?
What came first the chicken or the egg? Unfortunately, with all this media hype, together with new additional home user equipment upgrade costs, neither looks to be a winner in the short term! Let this nightmare of conflicting hype continue unabated to confuse us all, such is life!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the chicken or the egg?
What came first the chicken or the egg? Unfortunately, with all this media hype, together with new additional home user equipment upgrade costs, neither looks to be a winner in the short term! Let this nightmare of conflicting hype continue unabated to confuse us all, such is life!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Numbers Favor HD-DVD
Check this link for why:

The Economics of the Next Generation DVD Format
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/hardware/next-" target="_newWindow">http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/hardware/next-</a>
gen-dvd.ars

It's an op-ed piece by the guy who set up the
manufacturing infrastructure for both CD and DVD. As far
as I know, he has no horse in this race. Regardless, with his
expertise, his is an opinion I can live with.

Pertinent quotes:
"The numbers are stark: manufacturing BD discs will
require an estimated US$1.7 million cost per manufacturing
line. Per line!

Then, each major manufacturing facility would require the
implementation of a minimum of two mastering systems, at
a minimum cost of US$2 million per system. DVD ...
resulted in an estimated 600 manufacturing lines globally.

... Compare this to the estimated cost of retooling for the
HD DVD format ... HD DVD is able to utilize virtually the
entire existing [DVD] manufacturing infrastructure. The
cost of upgrading an existing DVD line is about
US$150,000  less than a tenth the cost of a BD line. A
DVD mastering system can be upgraded for US$145,000. "

When I ran the numbers for 600 lines:
$1.02 billion for BluRay
$90 million for HD-DVD

That's not including what the extra costs for the mastering
systems would be, only because he doesn't say how many
would be needed for 600 lines. If we just pick a number -
say 60 - that particular breakdown looks like this:
$120 million for BluRay
$8.7 million for HD-DVD

These are not kind digits for BluRay.
Posted by bcsaxman (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Upgrade vs New Installation
That's the problem when you look at upgrading to support the new format rather than building new systems.

I can replace my video card in my computer for $100 or buy an entire new computer (with the upgraded video card) for ten times that price.

A big part of the problem for HD-DVD is that it does use the old equipment too much and thus will be quite self-limiting. This is why BD-ROM (Blue Ray) will be able to grow over it's life cycle to well beyond what's in the HD-DVD vision.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
The Numbers Favor HD-DVD
Check this link for why:

The Economics of the Next Generation DVD Format
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/hardware/next-" target="_newWindow">http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/hardware/next-</a>
gen-dvd.ars

It's an op-ed piece by the guy who set up the
manufacturing infrastructure for both CD and DVD. As far
as I know, he has no horse in this race. Regardless, with his
expertise, his is an opinion I can live with.

Pertinent quotes:
"The numbers are stark: manufacturing BD discs will
require an estimated US$1.7 million cost per manufacturing
line. Per line!

Then, each major manufacturing facility would require the
implementation of a minimum of two mastering systems, at
a minimum cost of US$2 million per system. DVD ...
resulted in an estimated 600 manufacturing lines globally.

... Compare this to the estimated cost of retooling for the
HD DVD format ... HD DVD is able to utilize virtually the
entire existing [DVD] manufacturing infrastructure. The
cost of upgrading an existing DVD line is about
US$150,000  less than a tenth the cost of a BD line. A
DVD mastering system can be upgraded for US$145,000. "

When I ran the numbers for 600 lines:
$1.02 billion for BluRay
$90 million for HD-DVD

That's not including what the extra costs for the mastering
systems would be, only because he doesn't say how many
would be needed for 600 lines. If we just pick a number -
say 60 - that particular breakdown looks like this:
$120 million for BluRay
$8.7 million for HD-DVD

These are not kind digits for BluRay.
Posted by bcsaxman (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Upgrade vs New Installation
That's the problem when you look at upgrading to support the new format rather than building new systems.

I can replace my video card in my computer for $100 or buy an entire new computer (with the upgraded video card) for ten times that price.

A big part of the problem for HD-DVD is that it does use the old equipment too much and thus will be quite self-limiting. This is why BD-ROM (Blue Ray) will be able to grow over it's life cycle to well beyond what's in the HD-DVD vision.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
 

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