It had to happen sooner or later and now it has…someone has released a dual format Blue Ray and HD DVD drive…and that someone is LG Electronics. I know this because last week I was at the launch of not one, but two dual format drives, by the major Korean manufacturer, at appropriately cutting edge London venue, 24.
So does this mean the end of the format war? Well not quite. The ‘BH 100 Super Multi Blue’, which is a domestic drive, intended for the living room, plays back both formats and is backwardly compatible with all DVD and CD formats. However it does not support the HDi content available on some HD DVD discs and does not offer any form of recording. Meanwhile, the ‘Super Multi Blue GGW-H10N’, which is not a strain of bird flu, but a desktop PC drive, is also backwardly compatible with all formats and offers dual layer Blue Ray burning, but HD DVD playback only.
So if you’re waiting for a next generation hard disk/Blue Ray/HD DVD recorder, with dual ‘Freeview’ (UK digital TV) tuners and the ability to transcode to disc direct from the firewire socket of your DV/HDV/AVCHD camera, you’ll have to wait a little longer…as will you if you want to be able to read and write both formats from your PC.
Nevertheless, the release of these two products, which hit UK high streets next month, represents an important milestone and if not the end of the Blue Ray/HD DVD format war, then certainly ‘VE Day’. However, I seriously doubt it will be the last format war we see, because manufacturers seem to misguidedly think that format wars are good for business.
Historically, whenever there have been two (almost identical but completely incompatible) formats on offer, it has resulted in more unit sales. How many people who bought Beta, ended up having to buy VHS as well? How many people who bought a DVD- or DVD+ drive early on, ended up buying a multi format drive (or multiple multi format drives as read/write speeds increased incrementally…at regular intervals) when they suddenly became ‘magically’ available? But more and more people are getting wise to this trick.
What made CD such a popular format was and is that it is a no brainer. Any CD you buy, anywhere in the world (apart from a handful of recently released CDs containing a nonsensical copyright ‘protection’ system) is compatible with every CD drive in every hi-fi and computer, everywhere in the world. End of story. Buy a DVD however, and you need a map and a degree in geography to work out whether or not it will play in your region. You’d think the industry would have learned its lesson, but clearly it has not, begging the question, what exactly was the motivation for yet another format war?
Dishonest and premature marketing of LCD and Plasma screens as ‘HD’ or ‘HD Ready’, when they are not (and as superior to CRTs, when they are not), has created confusion and slow market take up of next generation screens, meaning that the majority of people do not yet have a TV on which they can see the benefit of ‘high’ definition discs. Add to this, lack of market awareness, confusion about competing Hi-Def DVD formats and artificially high prices and it is hardly surprising that take up of Blue Ray & HD DVD has been relatively slow. Everyone is either too confused, too priced out, or simply too cynical to buy. So congratulations to the industry for doing such a uniformly excellent job of shooting itself in the foot. As my friend Earl might say, “that’s karma for you!”
Looking at the ‘pro’ arena, things are no better. When HDV was released, it was without Panasonic’s support…though some would say they cannot be blamed for refusing to support a deliberately crippled format, agreed upon in a rush, largely to head off JVC’s ‘premature’ challenge to DV. Now that Sony and Panasonic have agreed upon an alleged successor, AVCHD, it is with minimal support from other manufacturers, leaving producers and film makers with a bewildering choice between DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO50, HDV, AVCHD, XDCAM, DVCPROHD, HD, MC REBBE and, of course, film.
If manufacturers were to put the good of consumers and the good of the industry as a whole ahead of petty squabbling and infighting for brand domination, they would still sell just as much product, but the world would be a happier place (if you want proof of this, just look at how the entire electronic music industry’s backing for MIDI boosted not detracted from profits, by replacing incompatible proprietary standards with universal compatibility). Unfortunately though, manufacturers seem to be lacking the vision of the creatives who use their products, which is why it is probably a safe bet that when the end of the Blue Ray / HD DVD war finally comes, it will signal nothing more than the end of a battle, in a ongoing war, that consumers and creatives always seem to loose.
Ultra Violet Ray DVDs anyone?
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