20th Century Fox Home Entertainment joins the Blu-Ray camp – Yeah!

For months now, the fight between the high definition video formats has been going on without coming to any solution to unify the two competing formats. The way it looks at this stage is that consumers will lose out in the end, as studios and hardware manufacturers are determined to bring too competing formats to market.

Warner Home Video and its subsidiaries, as well as Universal and Paramount Home Entertainment are backers of the HD-DVD format. While technologically clearly inferior, this format offers studios the chance for cheaper replication by re-using existing equipment as well as a backward compatibility to current DVD standards. The pay-off is, of course,limited resolution and fidelity of the presentation as well as extremely limited storage for things like bonus materials.

The Blu-Ray camp consists of Sony and its subsidiaries, namely Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Today, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announced its support of the Blu-Ray format as well, giving it a significant boost. Blu-Ray is the format home entertainment enthusiasts are hoping to see as the coming standard as it is technically superior to HD-DVD and offers more storage capacity, which allows for content that is using less compression. While it is not backward compatible with DVD per se, there is no reason to assume that Blu-Ray players wouldn’t be made compatible by including and additional red laser in the unit to read DVDs, nullifying the argument.

And so the battle rages on. The problem is, of course, that if two formats come to market, consumer confusion will most likely erode the market and make sure neither format is a real success. Only a single, unified format has that chance. Sadly, false pride and corporate politics seem to make this an impossibility.

While previously announced for launch this winter, it looks unlikely that we will see either format come to market this year. All announcements have simply been PR gags at this time and no one has backed them up with actual product or release date announcements. The world has also yet to see a production-line HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player. All that exists at this stage are bulky prototypes that don’t work so well, yet. Add to that the copy-protection and digital output issues revolving around both formats and this late in the year, from our perspective there is simply no way either format can make a full-fledged debut before 2006. Interestingly during last week’s VSDA Convention, where we were hoping to learn about definite plans regarding the launch of either platform, it almost felt as if people tried as hard as possible not to talk about it – another indicator that things are not going as smoothly as the participants want everyone to believe. One of HD-DVD’s biggest promises was that it would come to market much sooner than Blu-Ray, but evidently that promise no longer holds true, making you wonder all the more why studios like Warner, Universal or Paramount would voluntarily opt to support the inferior format that is practically outdated the day it comes out of the gates.

We will keep you posted as things develop.

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