Blu-ray Wins High-Def Battle . . . for Now

Blu-ray and HD DVD i i

On Tuesday, Toshiba said it would stop making its HD-DVD players, leaving the high-definition market to its main rival: Sony's Blu-ray format. Carmen Valino/Press Association via AP Images hide caption

itoggle caption Carmen Valino/Press Association via AP Images
Blu-ray and HD DVD

On Tuesday, Toshiba said it would stop making its HD-DVD players, leaving the high-definition market to its main rival: Sony's Blu-ray format.

Carmen Valino/Press Association via AP Images

A little over two weeks ago, Toshiba was buying some of the most expensive commercial time on television to promote HD DVD during the Super Bowl. But on Tuesday, Toshiba admitted defeat, saying it would stop making its HD DVD players. The move leaves the high-definition market to its main rival: Sony's Blu-ray format.

The two formats had been vying for dominance in the high-definition home video market. But in recent weeks, HD DVD had been abandoned on both the retail and content sides.

No doubt Toshiba's announcement is going to be a relief to consumers who have had a tough time over the past couple of years choosing between the two formats. If they wanted to upgrade from the old DVD format and get a player with high definition, they had to choose between Blu-ray or HD DVD.

Best Buy salesman Rocky Branch says customers regularly ask him which format to buy. But Branch says he wouldn't tell them which one to purchase. Instead, he says, he gave them some basic advice about how to choose.

"I tell them, 'If you really want to know, take a look at what titles are available. See what manufacturers are supporting the products to get an idea of which one you want to go with," Branch says.

In early January, that decision got easier. Warner Bros. Entertainment said it would stop putting its movies on HD DVD. That meant that four of the major studios were behind Blu-ray. Last week, Netflix said it would stop carrying HD DVD, and on Friday, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, announced it would only sell Blu-ray.

It's a big victory for Sony, which lost the format war that pitted Betamax against VHS back in the 1980s. This time, Sony will win the royalties garnered from Blu-ray sales, and that's likely to help the slow sales of the PlayStation 3 game console, which also works as a Blu-ray player.

But it may be an empty victory for Sony. Consumers don't just have to buy or rent movies; increasingly, they can download them from a variety of online retail shops such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

"We're clearly going to see additional products come into market that follows that sort of usability model. And as those become increasingly prevalent, physical media is going to diminish over time," says Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner, an information technology research company.

And even though a single high-definition DVD format has now emerged, many consumers may still be reluctant to dive in. Blu-ray isn't cheap. At Best Buy, for example, a Blu-ray disc sells for nearly $36.

Customer Mel Feranda says he'll wait.

"It's too expensive at the moment. I mean, eventually prices should drop, hopefully. And when that time comes, then I'll make the decision to convert," Feranda says.

Sony had better start dropping those prices quickly or consumers like Feranda may simply skip it and move to downloads.

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