In these last few days two announcements were made that paint a grim future for HD-DVD. The popular online movie rental service Netflix has indicated that it will be siding with Blu-ray as a HD format of choice. Best Buy, the well-known retailer of consumer electronics with a franchise in just about every neighborhood announced that starting in March it will be showcasing Blu-ray hardware and software pro-actively. Are these announcements the proverbial nail in HD-DVD's coffin? Or is the format war far from over yet?
As it stands, more studios will be siding with Blu-ray, and some may even switch from HD-DVD, as the scale has tipped in Blu-ray's favor these past few months. Understandable, as in the end they would like to sell their HD content irrespective of what format it is featured on. There are a few obstacles though that need to be overcome before consumers will adopt Blu-ray as quickly and happily as they did the old-school DVD. The biggest obstacle is the fact that Blu-ray media cannot be used on existing DVD players, computer DVD drives, portable players and many other older devices. You will need Blu-ray hardware in order to play back the Blu-ray media. HD-DVD releases are often dual standard, so they have a standard DVD and a HD-DVD layer and thus can be played on existing DVD hardware. That makes perfect sense from a consumer point of view as it allows consumers to purchase media before upgrading all of their hardware to the new standard. If you opt to go the Blu-ray route you could end up having to buy the same movie twice if you, for example, wanted to watch it on your PC or on your DVD player in the bedroom. The only, rather costly, alternative would be to upgrade every playback device in your house.
From that perspective the dual standard HD-DVD releases make a lot of sense. However I am sure the studios would rather see you buy the same movie twice, whereas retailers would more than happily sell you any number of Blu-ray players you might desire. So in terms of flexibility HD-DVD holds the better cards. On top of that, HD-DVD hardware is cheaper: an HD-DVD player is often less than half the price of a Blu-ray player. Hence despite the fact that Netflix, Best Buy and quite a few studios are siding with Blu-ray, HD-DVD still has some compelling arguments in its favor. From a image quality point of view both are similar, with Blu-ray slightly in the lead, but we're certainly not facing another VHS versus Betamax format war here, where Betamax clearly was superior but lost to VHS.
But there is a third option: upscaling DVD players. These upscale standard DVD media to semi-HD resolutions. Obviously this is not equivalent to true HD, but when the upscaling is done properly it gets very close. Actually, a quality upscaling DVD player will always give you a significant increase in image quality, often quite close to true HD. Pricing on these players is significantly lower than both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, so quite a few people, myself included, are going with this option for the time being. At the moment Blu-ray is not appealing enough due to the higher price of the hardware and the lack of backward compatibility of Blu-ray media. HD-DVD looks to hold the better cards due to lower pricing of the hardware and backwards compatibility, but will not become popular overnight due to recent announcements of companies and studios that are siding with Blu-ray.
So we are still caught in a fix - only if Blu-ray hardware dropped in price considerably consumers will be motivated to upgrade to Blu-ray. Hopefully with the pending release of new Blu-ray hardware retailers will discount current generation models, as pricing is often the only way to peak the interest of many consumers that are still left undecided.