HD DVD Goes The Way of Betamax

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jon Francke, a buyer at the video-rental chain Potomac Video, just placed his company's first order for Blu-ray discs.

Until now, his company avoided stocking its stores with either of the next-generation movie formats because, he said, "who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a format that's going to be obsolete in a few years?"

But now he considers it a safe move, after the consumer electronics maker Toshiba announced yesterday that it would cease building machines to play its HD DVD video format, effectively ending a battle between two rival technologies vying to replace the DVD.

Both HD DVD and Blu-ray offer programming on DVD-size discs that deliver crisp pictures with higher resolutions than the standard DVD format, which still dominates the industry. The two formats are incompatible with each other, so it was widely assumed that one would prevail.

And Toshiba's move was hailed as the raising of Blu-ray's fist in the boxing ring.

"We carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called 'next-generation format war' and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop," Atsutoshi Nishida, president and chief executive of Toshiba Corp., said in a statement yesterday.

HD DVD's defeat came in swift, successive blows.

In January, Warner Home Video announced that it would no longer support HD DVD as a result of its rival's stronger sales -- a move Toshiba cited in its decision to abandon the format.

After that, a series of similar announcements seemed to further spell doom for the format, as Toshiba slashed the prices of its HD DVD players, hoping to revive interest in its technology.

The online movie-rental service Netflix sent subscribers a notice last week that it would phase out its HD DVD library. Best Buy and Wal-Mart, meanwhile, announced that they would embrace Blu-ray over the rival format.

Then yesterday, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, one of the last major studios to support HD DVD, said it would move to the Blu-ray camp. In a statement after Toshiba's announcement, Craig Kornblau, the company's president, said, "It is time to turn our focus to releasing new and catalog titles on Blu-ray."

Meanwhile, for those unlike Francke who didn't wait for an industry verdict, the effective demise of HD DVD meant having to scramble to return recent purchases.

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