Make mine Blu-Ray: the state of the hi-def DVD format wars
Recently my partner in crime Scott purchased one of those insanely cheap $100 HD-DVD players, and as far as I can tell he's happy with it. But when making my own decision about which side of the idiotic format war to come down upon, I think I've made my decision in the opposite direction.
For the moment, to be honest, I'm staying out of the race entirely. My life is cluttered enough with insane home theater technology and entertainment opportunities galore; to my eyes standard-definition TV on my 27-inch flat panel LCD still looks pretty good and regular DVDs look great. Netflix and my Tivo keep me stocked on things to watch. I can afford to wait a year or more before even thinking about it, which is great because prices are only going to drop and there's even the remote possibility that one format or the other will flare out in the interim.
But in the event that this format war is still going on when I decide to drop some money on a hi-def player (and I suspect that it will be), I'm pretty sure my player of choice will be a Playstation 3, which of course supports Sony's Blu-Ray format. Here, in no particular order, are my reasons:
1. Combined game console and hi-def player. Given that a low-end PS3 has a Blu-Ray DVD player built in and costs less than most standalone Blu-Ray machines, why wouldn't I want to combine these two purchases? Of course, that assumes that I actually want to play some PS3 games. The PS2 has one of the largest game libraries in the world (if not the largest) and it's a fair bet that the PS3 will follow suit. To make this argument really stick I should have an actual title in mind, though, which brings me to reason #2...
2. Ratchet and Clank Future. The Ratchet and Clank series was, in my humblest of opinions, the best set of games yet created on a non-Nintendo console. You can keep your Halos and your Grand Theft Autos -- the R&C games are funny, action-packed, and challenging without being too challenging. They also don't require a commitment of an hour or more when you just want to sit down for a few minutes and blow some stuff up. When R&C Future: Tools of Destruction was announced for the PS3, my fate was sealed -- eventually, I'll be spending some quality time with that console.
3. Disney. Do I really need to say more? With a toddler at home and a wife who adores both classic Disney and contemporary Pixar releases, Disney's announcement of support for Blu-Ray makes the format a no-brainer. That's not to say that Disney wouldn't jump ship and put their movies out on HD-DVD if the market rejected Blu-Ray, but when Disney comes out in support of a format it can only have positive effects. I'm not eager to replace our collection of dozens of Disney DVDs, but the idea of watching A Bug's Life in high definition does have a certain attraction.
4. Whither goest the adult movie industry? At first I figured I had a good line on this one, with the reports I was reading online indicating that the porn industry was going with Blu-Ray. One of the big "lessons" to come out of the Betamax/VHS wars was that the porn industry can be a good indicator of technological trends. Unfortunately the literature on this one is all over the place. No one can seem to agree on which format the industry favors -- if the industry as a whole can be said to favor either. There are some nasty rumors that Blu-Ray manufacturers are refusing to replicate adult videos, just as Betamax manufacturers did back in the day. If true, it could mean history repeating itself. Or not. (See update below.)
5. To my mind, Sony is less evil than Microsoft. I've owned a number of Sony products I quite liked. I can't say that for Microsoft, unless you count the xBox I use solely as a hacked video player. It's kind of a weak reason, but when my porn argument fell apart I felt like I should come up with something else.
In the end such rumination is mostly guesswork and as consumers we're all just taking shots in the dark about what constitutes a sound decision. This is probably one of the last physical format wars that will actually matter -- if even this one matters. Digital distribution of films is going to make all of this hand-wringing a moot point. Until that day, however, I think we're looking at a two-format world and the need for some good hybrid players to help us live in it.
Update: Here's a little video that sums up the fears of the HD-DVD conglomerate. It could just as easily go the other way, of course, but the Blu-Ray proponents got to YouTube first.
And another update: Check out this video from C|NET about the whole porn thing. Looks like it's still a wash from the industry's perspective, though HD-DVD seems to have a slight edge. You can see the follow-up segment to this one here.