Why Did Blu Ray Beat HD DVD?

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my first though upon seeing this question was ‘what is an HD DVD?’ This indicates at least two things:

1)      That HD DVD was never all that successful.

2)      That I’m a bit of an idiot.

Well, for the uninitiated (such as myself) a quick search to Wikipedia, reveals that

“HD DVD (short for High-Definition/Density DVD) is a discontinued high-density optical disc format for storing data and high-definition video. Supported principally by Toshiba, HD DVD was envisioned to be the successor to the standard DVD format. In February 2008, after a protracted format war with rival Blu-ray Disc, Toshiba abandoned the format, announcing it no longer developed or manufactured HD DVD players or drives”.

In an amusing blog posted by Thomas Ricker at Engadget.com (the principal image of which is Monty Python’s totally dismembered Black Knight with the words ‘HD DVD’ superimposed on his helmet), Toshiba’s backing out of manufacturing HD DVD was very much the death knell for the ailing format. He says,

“HD DVD was developed to offer consumers access at an affordable price to high-quality, high definition content and prepare them for the digital convergence of tomorrow where the fusion of consumer electronics and IT will continue to progress”.

Elsewhere, whilst there are some other blog posts of the time that seem to maintain a tone similar to ‘the South shall rise again’ (no, it won’t. No matter how many times you say it), the majority can see the writing on the wall by February 2008.

But why did Blu Ray beat HD DVD? And why did it apparently happen so suddenly?

Well, it seems that Sony and Toshiba both wanted to develop an HD disc format as a natural successor to DVD, however, they just couldn’t agree on the specifics. For whatever reason, no matter how hard executives argued on both sides, no compromise could be made as to which approach was best. According to T3.com’s Chris Smith,

“Talks took place in April in an attempt to unify the formats, but ended in a stalemate and studios began to pick sides. Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, New Line, HBO and Microsoft Xbox initially backed HD-DVD, while Disney, Lionsgate, Mitsubishi, Dell and the PlayStation 3 had Blu-ray’s back. Both companies enjoyed minor victories, but it would all come down to the grandest arena tech has to offer: the Consumer Electronics Show 2008. Both sides were primed and ready for CES to turn the tide. Then Warners defected to Blu-ray. HD-DVD’s celebration Champagne corks came out not with a victorious pop but with an embarrassed fart”.

 Smith goes on to report that the trade show was an unequivocal disaster. The decline of HD DVD seems to be traced directly back to that moment, with Warner Bros striking the killing blow for the fledgling format. It is amazing just how quickly a technology can go from a neck and neck race for the top spot to an ignominious death in just a few short hours. From the standpoint of the consumer, it was easier (not to mention cheaper) to have a clear option to buy, which ultimately meant that there could only ever be one winner.

I’ll let Chris Smith deliver the postscript, following the CES failure,

“HD-DVD tried to counter with almost daily price cuts, but its remaining partners deserted it. Just five weeks after CES, Toshiba shut down the HD-DVD production line and the hi-def death match was over. After a brief, face-saving assertion that DVD upscaling was now the way to go, Toshiba eventually caved in and released its first Blu-ray player last year. For Sony, 20 years after being forced to embrace the VHS format that killed Betamax, it must have been an exceedingly sweet moment”.

Sweet indeed.