Opinion » Cybernaut


Format wars get ugly



It started off with a simple challenge. Unable to reach a consensus on one format, Toshiba went their way with HD DVD, and Sony went theirs with Blu-ray — and let the best high-tech giant win.

Toshiba was first to market, and remains cheaper because their technology is really just a minor tweak to DVDs. However, Sony’s next generation technology offers more capacity — which is important when you’re storing high definition video — as well as better performance through higher data transfer rates.

Sales were slow in the beginning for both formats, and still lag behind the sale of conventional DVD players. But things are starting to pick up.

Sony appears to have taken the lead. While they haven’t sold many standalone players, the decision to include the Blu-Ray format in the Playstation 3 is paying dividends. About four million consoles have been sold worldwide, which provides Blu-ray with an established customer base.

Sony has also won more converts in the entertainment industry than Toshiba. A few months ago the Blockbuster chain of rental stores announced that they would only stock Blu-ray disks for their customers. Last week, the Target chain of stores announced that they would only sell Blu-ray disks this Christmas season.

Microsoft, which backs Toshiba and the HD-DVD standard, responded within hours by knocking $20 off their add-on HD-DVD player for the Xbox 360 — with nearly 12 million Xbox 360s sold and Halo 3 not even in stores yet, it was a smart move to counter all this Blu-ray momentum. While buying an Xbox 360 Elite and HD-DVD add-on is actually more expensive than buying a PS3 with Blu-ray built-in, Toshiba has sweetened the deal by offering five free movies with every purchase until Sept. 30 from a pool of 15 movies. Not great movies, but I could see myself going for Apollo 13, Chronicles of Riddick, Constantine, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and, hmmm…

Wait, that deal is only good in the U.S. Which is unfortunate because this is a battle for world domination, and you can’t afford to lose in even one major market.

The next six months will be key for both formats, so expect weekly pronouncements from both Sony and Toshiba that will tell you why they are winning the format wars.

By January there should be a clearer winner to go along with the post-holiday sales. I’d wait until then before making the leap, or risk buying a system that could be obsolete by this time next year.