The HD Format War: time for a truce

With Warner Bros effectively deciding the Blu-ray vs HD DVD battle, it must be time to stop all the bickering now?

Disc battles: a curse of the modern age

The announcement yesterday by Warner Bros that it would be switching its high definition support exclusively to Blu-ray has, at last, finally settled the high definition format war. There’s perhaps a bit of huffing and puffing to come, but it’s virtually impossible to see HD DVD even attempting to come back from such a body blow now.

Given that I’d leant towards HD DVD myself – primarily for regional coding issues (which we’ll come to in a minute), but also having been burnt by Sony formats in the past – it’s not the winner I’d have chosen. But heck, there needed to be a winner, and there needed to be one declared quickly.

Why? Well, if you want to see just how fractious the high definition format war has become, you simply need to check out the reactions of fans online over the last 24 hours. These are, for the most part, the same people who have been unified in their loves of DVD and movies for the past decade or so.

Yet for the past year or so, as we’ve written before, many have been taking sides almost as if they’d invented their format of choice themselves. It makes you wonder what the VHS vs Betamax war would have been like if we’d all been on the Internet at the time. 

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Personally, I don’t think a good number followers of either side have covered themselves in glory, and reading some of the debates still raging, it really depresses and sickens me as to just how divisive the format war has made the community in some quarters. I’ve witnessed vitriolic arguments that help nobody. And ultimately, you have to argue that Sony, Toshiba and their respective partners let their customers down big time by starting this whole charade in the first place. Major lessons really need to be learnt here. No wonder, as The Digital Bits reported, so many people had been holding back not just from the HD battle, but from buying DVDs at all.

For what’s not being widely discussed yet is that there’s still a big problem. And it’s not over whether Blu-ray and HD DVD will win. It’s whether a HD format will break through properly at all.

There’s a real risk of a hollow victory here, as signalled by the fact that virtually no mainstream UK news outlet carried details of the Warner move. It demonstrates a lack of awareness and even apathy towads the high definition market that urgently needs addressing. And while few believe DVD will be replaced by Blu-ray outright, it’s surely clearly to the benefit of HD enthusiasts to pull together, call some form of truce, and make one optical HD format a success.

And again: I say that as someone who hasn’t too much time for the politics of Blu-ray. So let me issue a challenge to Sony: if it really wanted to endear itself to international HD enthusiasts, it could pull back on regional coding now. I know it’s not that simple, and I do get the reasons why it won’t, but how crazy is it that a catalogue title such as Die Hard 3 can’t be played on UK player? Even more so when only Die Hards 1, 2 and 4 have been released over here in high def, as Fox doesn’t have the distribution rights to the third movie in Britain. One of the beauties of DVD is how it opened up a whole world of movies to those willing to import, and showed that many international customers want to spend money on titles from right across the globe. It’s staggering, after all this time, that movie studios still want to prevent us from doing that.

But back to the primary issue here: one move from Warner Bros hasn’t solved every problem in the high definition war, but it has at least given a HD optical format a chance of breaking through. Surely – surely – the time has now come for the online communities to come back together, to accept that enough’s enough and to move forward? And surely this is a chance to put aside the fanatical fanboy rants on both sides, and get back to loving movies and watching them in the best way possible?

Because whether you preferred the winning format or not, the truth is that Blu-ray is the one that will be going forward now, and HD DVD won’t. It’s that simple. And it’s long past time to call some kind of truce, and move on. We might even get to talk about movies in HD discussion boards again, soon…

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