Seasonal hardware pricing to decide HD victor?

When it comes to the emergent war between Toshiba’s HD-DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray high-definition (HD) formats, it’s often the case that singular battles are fought on the grounds of which of the two disc formats can store the most data, which hardware format has the most distributor backing, which has the majority of movie sales, and which performs better in purely next-gen terms?

Ultimately the question everyone wants to know is, of course: which format will be crowned the high-definition victor and rightfully handed the demographic spoils of war?

Moreover, according to a report published by Business Week, industry analysts are reining in the layered technological intricacies attributed to the HD war and instead opting to wager that the format winner will be decided, quite simply, by whichever manufacturer has more player hardware on retail shelves at $500 USD or less by the time the 2007 Christmas period rolls around. With holiday season spending generally a boom time for electronics sales, and HD televisions being more readily embraced, consumers looking to invest come Christmas will likely be more inclined to gravitate toward whichever format offers the more monetarily rosy deal. And, regardless of the balance of current movie distributor allegiances, it’s also hard to see studios not simply severing ties with a flagging format in order to remain in step with the HD evolution as decided by the pocket of the consumer.

In terms of present weight of armament, the two competing formats both offer consumers excellent return by delivering truly impressive visual and aural HD performance so closely matched it’s difficult to separate the two where a ‘winner’ in concerned. Chris Crotty, senior consumer electronics analyst at iSuppli, notes that: “There is not enough distinction between these two formats to justify that one should win.” However, while both offer up functions such as interactive menus and even multi-language viewing capacity to further bolster performance oomph, as things stand Blu-ray maintains the greater percentage of studio backing and also delivers disc storage larger than that of its HD-DVD rival. 

It was initially thought that the recent backing of HD-DVD by the pornography industry probably would play a sizeable role in defining a HD format winner, but Steve Wilson, principal consumer electronics analyst at ABI Research, has since suggested that such support won’t carry as much significant influence as it did during the battle between VHS and (Sony’s) Betamax video formats in the 1980s, not least because porn can be so easily accessed via the Internet today. 

James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research, also has plenty to offer regarding the HD struggle, and revealed as much to Business Week. McQuivey offered that consumers unable to see and select a definite victor will “wait for clarity” in terms of their adoptive format choice, and “if they don’t get that, then they’ll settle for cheap.” McQuivey went on to say that whichever format is able to get below $500 USD on its HD hardware might stand a solid chance of winning the war if the opposition isn’t similarly able to produce comparable prices.

In that regard Toshiba already has existing players at retail for around $400 USD, although this year’s HD-DVD models are priced a few hundred dollars higher as they provide improved processing capability and enhanced audio formats. By comparison, Blu-ray players come in well above the $500 USD barrier, with only Sony’s Blu-ray equipped (20GB) PlayStation 3 videogames console offering a sub $500 choice since its launch in November of 2006.

Yet, interestingly, iSuppli’s Crotty ventures that Blu-ray and HD-DVD are spending so much time and effort cat fighting between themselves for market dominance that they may be overlooking the impact of the consumer’s unseen third choice – the Internet. Online HD delivery sees movie fans downloading their desired media rather than waiting around for confirmation of a new sustainable HD format, and, though still relatively modest in standing, HD downloading could well develop at speed with computer hardware evolving so quickly and the likes of the Apple TV set-top device enabling consumers to send directly from the Net to their televisions.

While the war continues to rage on, consumers holding fast for a physical HD option will have to remain patient as the calendar rolls gradually around to Christmas and the aforementioned pricing ‘festivities’ duly arrive.

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