Blu-ray appears to have beaten HD-DVD

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.

(New York Times article here.)

2 thoughts on “Blu-ray appears to have beaten HD-DVD”

  1. I’ve seen a comparison where there were both signals on one screen, half each. It was a battlefield, where a small group of pixelly blurs walked from the left half, across the resolution divide, and came out on the other as perfectly clear horses. This was just a normal film that was rolling in the shop, not a demo specifically set up for that moment on purpose.

    While the blurs were perfectly watchable, and my brain filled in that they were horses, it was amazingly clearer on the HD side of the display.

    While working on Burnout Paradise I was playing on a HD set every day. As soon as I got my copy home onto my SD TV I had to sit a few feet away from the screen and even then there are things on there that you just can’t see on the SD TV set.

    There is a difference. Whether it’s worth all the extra money is a big question.

    Currently I’d say that if you spend a lot of time playing games on new-gen consoles such as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 then it’s worth getting the best HD TV you can afford, but if you mostly watch TV then don’t bother. If you love films… You’ll just have to decide how much you love your films, and is the picture quality going to make a big difference to your enjoyment?

    Mostly I’d say that gamers are the only people who are currently ‘benefiting’ from the HD movement. For everyone else it’s just too expensive to justify £25 on a film that can be bought for £5 on a SD DVD disk.

    The reason I’m doubtful about gamers benefiting is that it seems like we don’t have a lot of choice but to upgrade if we still want to be able to play our games. The graphics and, in particular, the font and sizes chosen by developers usually don’t pay any attention to people with SD TV sets, so to get the best from your games you need the HD TV. We’re forced to suffer or upgrade.

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