It looks like the competition to be the main format for high-definition movies has been won by Blu-ray. There were two in the running, but on Friday the major American retailer Wal-Mart said that it is not going to purchase any more stock of HD-DVD players, effectively signalling that it believes the race is over. Wal-Mart is the largest distributor of DVD players in the US and so this decision says very strongly that Blu-ray is the winner.
Movies in the Blu-ray format have been consistently outselling the HD-DVD movies since the launch of the Playstation 3 (PS3), which has a Blu-ray player built in, although this doesn’t mean that the victory was clear. There were still a million dedicated HD-DVD players sold, a similar number to the dedicated Blu-ray players, but it looks like the PS3 owners swung the market. This can only have been deliberate on the part of Sony – they are the makers of the PS3 and the patent holders on the Blu-ray technology – but their gamble has paid off with a huge success.
What is more important for retailers such as Wal-Mart is that customers are informed that there is now a standard for high-definition movies. The longer the battle continued, the less attractive physical formats for films looked. Downloadable films are the logical step on from downloadable music, and it is a rapidly growing market. It won’t put physical retailers out of business soon, but it is a likelihood that it will eventually.
Regardless of this, only around 15-20% of households in the UK have a high-definition television, so even with a clear winner it’s going to take a while before high-definition films rival the sales of DVDs. Most owners of HD TV sets don’t have any input devices that play in HD, so the technology is often wasted. Annoyingly, the display of standard-definition signals (such as normal television) is often worse on a HD TV than on a normal one, because the picture has to be scaled up to fit on the higher-resolution screen and the software in the television often isn’t good enough to replicate the standard-definition signal.
There is still a lot of confusion in the HD TV market, between 720/1080 and the ‘i’ versus ‘p’ tags, and many consumers don’t realise that they need a new kind of signal going into the television to notice any difference. The resolution of the film formats to being only Blu-ray will certainly help things along, but there is a long way to go before consumers understand high-definition the way that they understand normal televisions.