It’s been about 5 years since I started following the format war that was to be known as Blu-Ray Vs. HD-DVD, and after many casualties (the most expensive being the public’s trust) the last shot has been fired. The final nail in the coffin of Toshiba’s HD-DVD format of high definition video discs was Warner Bros. cutting its ties to Toshiba (and HD-DVD) and choosing to only back Sony’s Blu-Ray with their entire movie catalogue (the biggest in Hollywood... or so I've read and don't feel the need to verify. Like I said in the title, this isn't about specifics, it's just a "beginner's guide." Now continue, maggot!). This broke the stalemate of studio support for each format and put 70% of movie exclusives on Sony’s side.
Thank fucking CHRIST! Honestly, I would have settled for HD-DVD, but Blu-Ray was clearly the superior technology. HD-DVD could store 15Gigabytes of info on one layer, 30Gigs on dual layers, whereas BD (Blu-ray Discs) have the capability of 24Gigs on one layer and 50 on dual. For reference, DVDs hold what, 4.7 Gigs on one layer, and about 8.5 on dual (but with awful pausing between the two)? Also, the digital storage coding thingamabobs for Blu-Ray is so much better than Microsoft's special coding thingamabob for HD-DVD too. So sayeth the geek sites I've been reading for years and years.
WHAT THE FUCK I’M TALKING ABOUT,
This is probably all geek speak to a good portion of you, but I’ll try to make it more layspeak (especially since I’m not really a tech-head myself). Let me back up a bit and give you the quick synopsis of home video history.
Tube TVs (well, non-high def tube TVs) have 480i lines of resolution. That’s 480 lines, but only 240 lines shown for every frame on screen. That’s what “interlaced” means: Only half the information is shown at any given frame, then the lines in between those lines are flashed up in the next frame. That's the important part: They were interlaced. And fuzzy.
Back in the early 80s people thought this was just fine though, and they thought that VHS (which beat out Sony’s Betamax in the 1st Great Video Format War) — with its only 240i lines of resolution — was dandy in fact. But then came the late 80s and early 90s and LaserDisc really took off (well, kind of) with its 425 lines of resolution. The problem with LaserDiscs were that they were as big as large pizzas and only held around 60 minutes (max) of video per side. They had fantastic video quality compared to VHS, but most people just didn't care about flipping movies halfway through, and Blockbuster rarely even carried them, and they were like $100+ per flick to buy a single movie oneself. Not a good combination for deep consumer penetration.
But then came the late 90s and the DVD was born, and there was much rejoicing (the video quality was even better than LaserDisc, and yet DVDs were pretty cheap and the same size as Cds, which made them easy as shitting on a sidewalk to collect and store)… Well, there was much rejoicing after yet another format war erupted between DVD and Circuit City’s really retarded pay-as-you-go rip-off called DIVX. Holy shit was DIVX a goddamn ridiculous idea. The DIVX con went a little something like this: For $5 you could buy a DIVX movie (whose disc looked just like a DVD in order to confuse consumers more) and play it for 48 hours on your (could only be bought at CC [and way more expensive than it should have been]) DIVX Disc player… Which had to be plugged into your phone line so that DIVX HQ could keep tabs on you like Big Brother. You could of course pay a bunch extra to keep the disc for good, or just throw it away after your 48 hours were up (which would have filled our garbage dumps up faster than David Caruso’s career was being flushed down the shitter at about the same time). Oh, and if you wanted to watch the DIVX disc at a friend’s house you couldn't. It could only be played on your registered system. Unless your friend also had his DIVX machine plugged into a phone jack and paid the blackmailing CC bastadges to play your copy himself. It sucked balls and was not well thought out at all.
Anyway, DVD could play video at 480p (480 progressive, which means every frame displayed at any fraction of a second has 480 lines of resolution), and even on the just emerging from the digital primordial soup high definition TVs of the time (TVs capable of showing up to 1080p video – though most HD TVs in the 90s only had 720p or 1080i, fyi) they looked pretty durn good. And people were happy for almost a decade. Mostly because they didn’t know better.
It's into this that the hi-def war began.
THE HI-DEF WAR
Like I said, I started following things about five years ago, and at first it looked like all the major Hollywood studios and all the big tech companies were actually behind a single format from the start: Sony's Blu-Ray. I, along with the rest of the net, was floored. I was more surprised at this unity than I was of Bennifer breaking up (*Sniff!* I still think they have a chance, if only they'd just talk!). But of course this was just too good to be true as greed overtook all those involved, and a huge schism occurred with some studios and tech companies siding with Toshiba's HD-DVD format (which was basically just DVD on steroids) and others siding with Sony's Blu-Ray (which was a bit more expensive to manufacture, but as stated before allowed a lot more secure content on each disc, and was the better overall technology).
In 2005, if I recall, Sony's camp tried one last time to negotiate a compromise with Toshiba's crew and make a single format work, but Toshiba bailed because one of their partners in HD (*cough* Microsoft *cough*!) whispered in their ear that they were totally better and would totally win, dude; and then Bill Gates came over and offered everyone who had a VP title or higher a sloppy blowjob. Then war was declared. Again.
Some studios took both sides: Paramount, Dreamworks, and Warner Brothers for example. Some tech companies made video players for both formats too (and some made players that played both types of discs). But when launches occurred for both systems (despite some big glitches on both sides) all this served to do was piss off the general public more than if Sony and Toshiba had just flicked the world off and shit in their soup like the chicks in that 2Girls 1Cup video. Yes, early adopters took sides and started praising their purchases as the second coming of VHS, but considering video from both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD looks pretty much IDENTICAL they were obviously just trying to quantify the ENORMOUS purchase price of close to $1,000 for the first-generation systems that they just bought. Mental note: NEVER buy a first-gen system.
The general public wasn't buying it. It was beyond obvious that one (or both) of these HD formats was going down; there was no way that the two of them could survive together. It was like a Harry and Voldemort relationship: Neither could survive while the other lived. From mid 2006 on it just wasn't clear which would prevail. As a result (as with all format wars), both were kind of fucked. Most people I knew (hell, EVERYBODY I knew who bought movies) was content to sit on the sidelines and wait for a clear victor. Even after seeing just how good both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD looked on a 50" 1080p plasma at Circuit City (playing right next to a now subpar standard DVD on another 1080p set), I refused to pick a side. I even stopped buying regular DVDs of big, special effects-driven films near the end of 2006 knowing that I'd probably be buying them all over again on the winner of the HD War. A good chunk of these just talked about friends felt the same way and started putting their money where their mouths were too. So now Hollywood wasn't only NOT making money from the stalemate of the HD War, but they were also not making money from people who refused to even buy the standard definition DVDs from them. The pinch must have been hurting, but nothing was being done to satisfy the masses. And then came 2007.
2007: THE YEAR HD-DVD BLEW ITS LOAD FOR WHAT IT THOUGHT WAS THE WIN AND STILL FUCKED THINGS UP
Both sides were still slinging numbers back and forth during the first half of '07 ("We had more sales in Peru!" "Yeah, well we sold more players in Boise!" "Well, WE sold more movies than you in a Fry's in Atlanta, Georgia!"). But despite Blu-Ray's later launch, and because of Sony's insistence on including a BR player in every Playstation 3 that went on sale in late '06 (which at the time everybody originally thought was the stupidest thing Sony could have done), by January 2007 Blu-Ray movies were outselling HD-DVDs everywhere. The HD-DVD guys then started getting desperate and began shitting out subpar HD players for cheap, hoping that the Wal-Mart consumers would just buy their crap because it was less expensive than anything Blu-Ray. This seemed to work for a while — and more players were sold than should have been — but Blu-Ray movies continued to outsell HD-DVDs; on titles that were on both formats the numbers were around 3:1 in favor of Blu-Ray. In June of 2007 it was obvious to most who the winner of this war would be. The consumers had spoken. If only Toshiba had listened.
Instead, at the end of August 2007, Toshiba offered both Warner Bros. and Paramount Studios around $150 MILLION to just make HD-DVDs, and to drop Blu-Ray. Paramount shit themselves with pleasure over the cash (and even cancelled Blu-Ray discs that were already pressed and shipped to stores for street dates of the following weeks), but the WB wouldn't budge.
Then came Black Friday '07. The HD-DVD group (still not fully comprehending why despite all their efforts their HD-DVDs were still underselling Blu-Rays) had Earth-shattering mark-downs on their hardware and software. HD-DVD players were put on sale at around $100, and included 10 free movies with each purchase!... Yet Blu-Ray players and movies outsold them on that day, and from that day forward. Despite this, the HD-DVD group still could not see the writing on the wall. They were determined to either win or take both sides down and let Microsoft get their way and start selling HD-Downloads via their X-Box 360s (but that's another story and a half).
Warner Bros. however, DID see the light, and it was blue. On January 4th, 2008, just days before the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) '08 (and Toshiba and Microsoft's huge HD-DVD parties and announcements), Warner Bros. announced that they would only be publishing in Blu-Ray starting June (giving early HD-DVD adopters the ability to still pick up HD titles that they had already been promised up through May, very much unlike how Paramount totally screwed their customers over back in 2007). Soon after the WB's press release it was revealed that New Line and HBO would follow suit and go Blu-only themselves. That put over 70% of Hollywood releases solely behind Blu-Ray. HD-DVD was/is pretty much cornholed.
All of the major press releases, conferences and parties revolving around HD-DVD were immediately cancelled at the world's largest electronics expo. It seemed that even Toshiba and their partner Microsoft finally got it. They finally understood. They were the exact opposite of Sally Field at the Oscars. They realized the whole world was chanting "We HATE you, we really HATE you!" at them.
On top of that, there's also major rumors going around that Paramount and Dreamworks had clauses in their HD-DVD Or Bust contracts that stipulated if Warner went totally Blu that their contracts for HD-DVD only could be cancelled. Add to that many Japanese HD-DVD distributors (big in the motherland) jumping ship to Blu-Ray and you have the makings of an Epic failure the likes of which we haven't seen since Reagan Vs. Mondale. Yay!
(Update: 1/16/2008: It has been reported that in the week following the WB's change in Hi-Def policy that the gap between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disc sales has widened from 3:1 to 20:1. Awesome.)
After the WB went Blu-only I find myself just waiting for Microsoft and Toshiba to throw one final, desperate temper tantrum to try and save their sinking ship. Like maybe free porn, or free blow with every purchase. Or free hookers and blow… and a gold-plated dildo to FUCK YOURSELF up your own ass, ‘cause they don’t have enough time to go around and personally do that to all of their own customers now.
WHAT THIS MEANS
I don't know what this means for you, but for me it means happiness. I'll finally be picking up a Blu-Ray player soon, and I'll finally be able to watch really real hi-def stuff on my 1080p TV. It's why I got the damn thing in the first place, and quite honestly I was starting to think I made a mistake (not really, it's truly awesome, but for the sake of this article I stick by that statement). The minute I read the news that the WB went Blu-only I packed up my DVDs that I had gotten for Christmas (and hadn't gotten around to opening, let alone watching) and ran over to Best Buy to exchange them for their Blu-Ray counterparts (some of which were actually cheaper than their DVD versions). Then I fondled the Blu-Ray movie boxes for a few days of pure bliss. Maybe I'll go out, disconnect my brake lights, and have somebody hit me on the highway for the insurance money (just like Roy from Wings!) so that I can afford a PS3 NOW.
To sum up: It's been about 25 years after Beta bowed to VHS, but Sony finally brought a winner home. Personally, I couldn't be happier. And to all you morons who bought an HD-DVD player and library within the last 6 months, well, you're very, very stupid. If you had done your research you would have seen that HD was in a tailspin with no chance to pull up. All those desperate sales on their systems and uber-give-aways, and sloppy attempts to BUY the loyalty of big Hollywood. Never a good sign.
The end... Until the Holographic Disc and 3D Optical Disc Format war of 2019. Ugh, I've already got a headache just thinking about it.
(Final Update: 2/21/2008