Is the tug of war over high-def DVD format over?

"If we're trying to build a business, then it's going to be built primarily on people understanding the benefits of a high-def experience," says Sony Chief Marketing Officer Andrew House. "We're focused on delivering the very best experience for the consumer."

They add that prices for Blu-ray players will fall as the market shifts from early adopters who pay top dollar for cutting-edge toys to ordinary consumers looking for value.

"If people are price-sensitive about the player, they might want to wait a little while," says Pioneer Home Entertainment Group's Andy Parsons, who's also chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association Promotions Committee.

Consumer confusion

Content and price won't matter if consumers are frozen by their inability to figure out each format's technological strengths and weaknesses.

Blu-ray supporters say their format wins in delivering no-compromises video and audio.

Discs can handle long movies and abundant bonus features; each disc holds 50 gigabytes of data vs. 30 GB for HD DVD and less than 10 GB for a conventional DVD. Since a two-hour high-def movie can use up 25 GB, that leaves more room on Blu-ray for bonus features and games.

"It's the best-quality picture out there, and the boundless data capacity makes this a future-proof technology," House says. "HD DVD is version 1.1, and Blu-ray is 2.0."

But Blu-ray's best customers are gamers: Sony's PlayStation 3 comes with a Blu-ray player built in. PlayStations account for more than 85% of the Blu-ray players sold.

Those looking for a stand-alone Blu-ray player have to decide what features they want.

Older models won't accommodate picture-in-picture, a new feature that Blu-ray calls BonusView. Discs and players that offer BonusView can, for example, show a movie director in the corner of the screen commenting on a particular scene.

Buyers also will have to wait until later this year if they want a player with an Internet connection capable of handling features Blu-ray calls BD Live.

Supporters say that's no big deal. All players handle the main event: movies.

"Once we get to the mass market, which is where I think we'll be in the next couple of years, all of that (confusion) will be behind us," Chapek says. "Then, the people who are less technophilic will not have to deal with it."

HD DVD backers say there's no need to wait. Their format "has been a consistent specification since Day 1," Sally says. For example, all players have Internet ports. They enable users to download cellphone ring tones, send friends favorite scenes from a movie, play games or see material on a studio's website.

Unlike with Blu-ray, there's no region coding. Overseas travelers can buy and play any HD DVD they find.

Most HD DVD discs also have a conventional DVD on the flip side, making them playable on ordinary DVD players including on laptops and automobile backseat entertainment systems.

Despite the differences in the formats, and the complications with the launch of a new generation of DVDs, both sides agree that consumers are ready for a new video technology.

"We're seeing a strong sea change, a generational shift, where people are embracing high definition," House says. "Once you've seen that kind of picture, you can never go back."

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