How Blu-Ray won the battle

One of the great things about hindsight is that it allows you to boast of being right all along when it was often more luck than skill.

One of the great things about hindsight is that it allows you to boast of being right all along when it was often more luck than skill.

These that have ended up in the Blu-ray camp and turned a cold shoulder towards HD-DVD might be patting themselves on the back, but it was not always clear who would win.

It only started to feel as if Blu-ray was gaining an unassailable lead at the Consumer Electronics show in the US at the start of the year. Buoyed by the announcement that Warner Bros would support the format, it took the wind out of the sails of the HD-DVD movement.

Bad reports in the press guessing at the future of HD-DVD were proved to be right when the CEO of Toshiba, which had been the leading proponent of Blu-ray’s rival format, announced that it was not a wise strategic idea to continue the fight.

"We carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called ‘next-generation format war’ and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop," said Atsutoshi Nishida, president and CEO of Toshiba Corporation, in a statement.

"While we are disappointed for the company and more importantly, for the consumer, the real mass market opportunity for high definition content remains untapped," he added.

Both formats had their backers and the proof is still out there in cyberspace for the time being, illustrating just how many reviewers and industry pundits backed both formats.

Resellers often complain that they are swamped with hype and have to spend a great deal of time working out which technology it makes sense to sell, get trained in and where the marketing spend should be made.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD provide a great example of the risks that the channel faces making the right technology decision.

Last summer, when it was far from clear which format would become dominant, the tech world seemed fairly well divided, with some pundits predicting both Blu-ray and HD-DVD would live alongside each other.

Part of the reason for the harmonious predictions was that in some respects the technology is fairly similar. Both formats use the same kind of 405 nanometer wavelength blue-violet lasers, which is an improvement on the red lasers used in DVDs.

But beyond that there are of course differences that made it a challenge not just for resellers and customers but also for vendors to decide which technology to support.

Blu-ray works by packing data into a single spiral on the surface of the disc, which allows for a large amount of both audio and video data to be stored. More data can
be carried on each layer than HD-DVD but it is also this technique for storing information that made the two formats incompatible.

Plus both formats use different coatings to cover the surface of the discs, with HD-DVD having a thicker surface layer at 0.6mm compared with Blu-ray at 0.1mm.

From a capacity point of view Blu-ray gets another tick in the box, as it can hold 50GB compared with the 9GB offered by a standard double-layer DVD or the 30GB from HD-DVD.

Aside from the technical differences the technologies had different backers, with Toshiba leading the charge with HD-DVD and Sony very much the champion of Blu-ray. That meant that for most customers the first experience of the technology came in the shape of a games console. Sony put the Blu-ray player into the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft chose HD-DVD for the Xbox 360.

Aside from the games market the other main influencers were the Hollywood studios and there was a race to try to sign up the movie houses to each format. Tellingly it was the Warner Bros backing for Blu-ray that was seen as the death knell for HD-DVD.

For the channel the future now is clear — Blu-ray has won — but the lessons that can be learnt from this battle are important ones to carry forward.

Firstly, the key questions resellers have to ask is around the vendors that are supporting a product and just as importantly the question of allegiance from content providers.

Secondly, although it is vital to keep abreast of the market developments there can be some merit to holding back slightly to wait to see which way the wind settles.

Finally, what Betamax showed all those years ago is that it is not necessarily the best or the cheapest technology that wins out. Blu-ray was more expensive to produce than HD-DVD but it still managed to land the killer punches.

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