It will still arrive earlier than Blu-Ray disc (BD) drives and content but the advantage of being first is no longer the strategic plus it once was. So for four weeks, the pro-Blu-Rays have been swaggering around.
Until yesterday, that is, when Microsoft and it's trusty sidekick, Intel, officially planted their flags in the HD-DVD camp. The format tale twists yet again and now HD-DVD has gone from being the slightly less glamorous option in this format war to the belle of the ball. This is a big boost to the HD-DVD camp, even if it was not the greatest surprise in the world. We'll come back to that in a minute but first let's see why Wintel have made their choices. Allegedly, Intel made up its own mind on this one. That's why it had a joint press conference then, I suppose? Anyway, here goes.
The 'Managed Copy' feature lets consumers copy their discs to a hard drive for viewing and streaming round the home. And yes, mentions of both Media Center PCs and Intel Viiv technology were slipped in here. No mention of content protection for high-def material though, which is bound to greatly restrict much of this wonderful copying and streaming.
"Future-proof" compatibility. They like the way that HD-DVD discs can hold both high definition content and standard DVD content that can be accessed from current DVD drives.
Low-cost, high-volume manufacturing. It's true that HD-DVDs drives will be easier to produce on existing DVD production lines and can be ramped up to squirt out squillions of them relatively easily. However, while they might be cheaper to produce that does not mean they will be significantly cheaper on our end. Cost alone could prove a big decider in which format wins though.
High capacity. They said that HD-DVD-ROM discs will offer dual-layer 30GB discs at launch, compared with 25GB BD-ROM discs. They failed to mention that they were comparing a dual-layer HD-DVD disc to a single layer BD disc. Dual layer BD discs can hold 50GB. Sneaky Stealth Marketing 101: assume your audience are stupid and work from there.
Superior format for notebooks: HD-DVD drives size and backwards compatibility with current DVD drives makes them easier to fit in next-generation notebooks. Fair enough but there was never much chance of Blu-Ray succeeding on the PC/notebook front anyhoo.
It's little surprise that both companies have gone with HD-DD though. Firstly, consoles are going to play a big role in seeing which format wins out. Sony's PS3 will feature, unsurprisingly, BD drives.
The Xbox 360 could hardly be seen to use the same technology as its rival now could it? First generation Xbox 360s will come with plain old DVD drives to start but Microsoft has promised an upgrade to HD-DVD drives in the future. Secondly, both Intel and Microsoft are tied to the PC and notebook - especially now since the "digital-networked-rewired-wireless-streaming-load of bollocks-house of the future" is uppermost on their future agendas.
And balance sheets. They have to make the digital home work and to do so they have to make PCs and notebooks less PC and notebooky, really. HD-DVD is the natural successor to DVD which makes it an easier sell to us mono-browed consumers. I mean, imagine telling everyone that the next generation of high-format DVD technology would be very different and require them to get their heads around even more new technology.
Not the best plan when you are already trying to force feed them the line that Media Centre PCs powered by forthcoming Intel Viiv technology are really easy to use. No, no they are, really, please believe us. Would we lie to you? "We swear on our shareholders condos "
So, what are we left with? The Wintel vote puts HD-DVD back in the game. It's not that it was losing, necessarily but on the PR front, Blu-Ray was lapping up the limelight and signing Hollyweird studios like there was no tomorrow. But it's numbers that count. Wintel support cements the future of HD-DVD in technology circles but it's not enough to guarantee it the same success in the much larger consumer electronics and gaming arenas.
While it might result in some more coming down off the fence on the HD-DVD side, it still leaves us consumers up the spout. Technology aside, we are faced with a needless format war between two greedy, money-grabbing factions looking for a big payoff. Regardless of who wins, we lose. µ
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