I’m embarrassed to confess this, but my first thought upon seeing this title was ‘what is an HD DVD?’ This means at least two things:


1)         That HD DVD was never that successful.

2)         That I’m some an idiot.


Well, for the uninitiated (such as myself) a quick search to Wikipedia, reveals that


“HD DVD (short for High-Definition/Density DVD) is a discontinued high-density optical disc format for storing data and high-definition video. Supported principally by Toshiba, HD DVD was envisioned to be the successor to the standard DVD format. In February 2008, after a protracted format war with rival Blu-ray Disc, Toshiba abandoned the format, announcing it no longer developed or manufactured HD DVD players or drives”.


In an amusing website posted by Thomas Ricker at Engadget.com (the principal image of which is Monty Python’s completely dismembered Black Knight with the words ‘HD DVD’ superimposed on his helmet), Toshiba’s backing out of producing HD DVD was much the death knell for that ailing format. He says,


“HD DVD was developed to offer consumers access at an affordable price to high-quality, high definition content and prepare them for the digital convergence of tomorrow where the fusion of consumer electronics and IT will continue to progress”.


Elsewhere, whilst there are a few other blog posts about that time that seem to keep a tone similar to ‘the South shall rise again’ (no, it won’t. No matter the number of times you say it), the majority can see the writing on the wall by February 2008.


But why did Blu-ray beat HD DVD? And why did it apparently occur so abruptly?


Well, it appears that Sony and Toshiba both had to develop an HD disc format as a natural successor to DVD, nevertheless, they just could not agree about the details. For whatever reason, despite how hard executives argued on both sides, no compromise could be made as to which approach was best. According to T3.com’s Chris Smith,


“Talks took place in April in an attempt to unify the formats, but ended in a stalemate and studios began to pick sides. Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, New Line, HBO and Microsoft Xbox initially backed HD-DVD, while Disney, Lionsgate, Mitsubishi, Dell and the PlayStation 3 had Blu-ray’s back. Both companies enjoyed minor victories, but it would all come down to the grandest arena tech has to offer: the Consumer Electronics Show 2008. Both sides were primed and ready for CES to turn the tide. Then Warners defected to Blu-ray. HD-DVD’s celebration Champagne corks came out not with a victorious pop but with an embarrassed fart”.


Smith goes on to report how the trade event was an clear disaster. The decline of HD DVD seems to be traced directly back to that moment, with Warner Bros striking the killing blow for this fledgling format. It can be amazing just how quickly a technology can go from a neck and neck race for that top spot to an embarrassing death in just a few short hours. From the standpoint of the customer, it was easier (not to mention less costly) to have a very clear choice to buy, which ultimately meant that there could only ever be one winner.


I will let Chris Smith supply the postscript, following the CES catastrophe,


“HD-DVD tried to counter with almost daily price cuts, but its remaining partners deserted it. Just five weeks after CES, Toshiba shut down the HD-DVD production line and the hi-def death match was over. After a brief, face-saving assertion that DVD upscaling was now the way to go, Toshiba eventually caved in and released its first Blu-ray player last year. For Sony, 20 years after being forced to embrace the VHS format that killed Betamax, it must have been an exceedingly sweet moment”.


Sweet indeed. 

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