Beat the HD DVD Format War, Don't Buy Movies

by Mike Shea on 12 December 2007

As the former author for Liquid Theater, I should care a lot more for the HD DVD format war than I do. Only a couple of months ago did I plant a flag on one side or the other by buying an HD-DVD drive for my Xbox 360, mainly to watch The Fountain in HD. I like it, but if HD-DVDs die under the storming troops of Blue Ray, I won't really care and neither should you.

The format war is really really stupid. A bunch of media, electronic, and software companies tried to get together and agree upon a standard but they could not. Instead we have both HD-DVD sponsored mostly by Microsoft and Universal; and Blue-Ray sponsored primarily by Sony and Fox. The current numbers favor Blue Ray but the total number of sales is so low that it hardly matters. Either format could win but right now both are losing and losing badly.

And they deserve to lose.

What do we gain with HD-DVDs? They have native 1920 x 1080 resolution which is nice but other than this they offer no practical feature over regular DVDs. Instead they cost about $10 to $20 more, require a dedicated player, can't be ripped easily to a PC, and force a customer to figure out which format they want.

Those big fat suit-wearing company men never should have left the big meeting until they had agreed upon a standard. Instead we're locked in a ten year format war with no possible winner except plain old DVDs. Maybe that's what they wanted. These big companies don't want to release HD content, they make lots of money from the DVDs and they're trying real hard to get us back to the theater anyway.

DVDs really have everything we could want. They have 5.1 multi-channel sound, lots of extras, a low price tag, no format incompatibility, and a low cost.

One other factor also points towards the dominance of old-style DVDs over the two new formats. For about $100, one can purchase an up-converting DVD player that outputs 1080p signals from an upconverted DVD. Sure, there's loss with that upscaling. That picture may be a tad fuzzier, but with most movies these days, who really cares? It's good enough.

There's one other way to ensure we don't lose that much money on this stupid format war. Don't invest in media for either side. Stop buying DVDs entirely. How often do we watch them anyway? Why not just rent them from Netflix or rent them again if you really want to see it? Hell, check it out from the library for free. Sure we may have private personal collections of our favorite movies like Blade Runner or Lord of the Rings, but most of these movies we don't really have to own. Renting them is good enough.

If we don't buy DVDs of either HD-DVD or Blue Ray, we won't lose anything but the cost of the player should one win over the other. The only investment is in the player itself which, on the side of HD-DVD, can now be purchased for about $100 to $200.

I own only three HD-DVDs and one of those was a pack-in. The other two are 300 and The Fountain. On the horizon I only plan on buying the HD Blade Runner. If my HD-DVD player were to be confiscated by DHS, I wouldn't really care. I don't have that much invested.

So relax, keep renting those DVDs, buy an upscaling DVD player, buy an HD-DVD or Blue Ray player if you really want to, just don't invest in a significant collection of discs. You really don't need them all anyway; simplify your life.