HD DVD camp stands by for­mat

Toshiba says back­ers haven’t wa­vered de­spite Warner Bros.’ choice of Blu-ray. But Paramount may be re­con­sid­er­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - Business - By Dawn C. Ch­mielewski and Clau­dia Eller

las ve­gas — Had pun­dits bet on the HD DVD camp fold­ing its hand in Las Ve­gas, they would have lost their shirts.

None of the cor­po­rate gi­ants that back the next-gen­er­a­tion DVD for­mat have jumped ship at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show here. But the huge mo­men­tum shift to­ward the Blu-ray for­mat has at least one stu­dio strongly con­sid­er­ing a switch.

Warner Bros.’ de­ci­sion last week to start mak­ing movies ex­clu­sively for Blu-ray play­ers, rather than HD DVD, trig­gered an “out” clause in Paramount Pic­tures’ con­tract with the HD DVD camp. An in­dus­try source said there was a sig­nif­i­cant pos­si­bil­ity that Paramount would ex­er­cise that clause. It plans to de­cide within a month.

Paramount of­fi­cials said they would con­tinue to sup­port HD DVD, a for­mat for dis­play­ing videos in higher qual­ity whose back­ers in­clude Toshiba Corp. and Mi­crosoft Corp. Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures, which has been a strong sup­porter from the be­gin­ning, is­sued no pub­lic state­ment on the mat­ter here.

Toshiba said Tues­day that re­tail­ers have ex­pressed their com­mit­ment to HD DVD dur­ing private meet­ings at the show, which is the world’s largest con­sumer tech gath­er­ing.

Still, the Warner Bros. move — an­nounced just be­fore the show be­gan — dra­mat­i­cally changed the bal­ance of power in the com­pe­ti­tion to set the new DVD stan­dard.

The Blu-ray con­tin­gent, led by Sony Corp., all but claimed vic­tory be­fore a stand­ing-roomonly pre­sen­ta­tion Mon­day, say­ing: “The Fu­ture Is Blu.”

The Blu-ray Disc Assn. claimed a sig­nif­i­cant edge over HD DVD, with 85% of all nextgen­er­a­tion play­ers pur­chased since Blu-ray hit the mar­ket late in 2006. The group also said 66% of all high-def­i­ni­tion movies sold in 2007 were Blu-ray.

Danny Kaye, 20th Cen­tury Fox Home En­ter­tain­ment’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of tech­nol­ogy strat­egy, pre­dicted that Blu­ray play­ers — in­clud­ing Sony PlayS­ta­tion 3 game con­soles, which also play movies in the for­mat — would jump from 3.5 mil­lion sold by the end of 2007 to 10 mil­lion by the end of this year. He fore­cast a sim­i­lar surge in movie sales, from $170 mil­lion to $1 bil­lion in con­sumer spend­ing.

Kaye said 2008 would be “a year of very strong, ex­plo­sive growth.”

Steve Beeks, pres­i­dent of Blu­ray sup­porter Li­ons Gate, said that af­ter two years of “wasted en­ergy” de­voted to the bruis­ing for­mat war, the in­dus­try could be­gin to fo­cus its ef­forts on ex­pand­ing the home en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket.

“We be­lieve 2008 will be a wa­ter­shed year for Blu-ray’s as­cent in the mar­ket­place,” Beeks said.

That en­thu­si­asm ap­pears to be shared by the show’s at­ten­dees, who flocked to the nu­mer­ous Blu-ray dis­plays on the show floor. The num­bers were no­tice­ably thin­ner at sim­i­lar HD DVD dis­plays.

Jodi Sally, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Toshiba Amer­ica’s dig­i­tal au­dio video group, em­pha­sized the con­tin­ued re­tail sup­port for its HD DVD for­mat, which has sold more 1 mil­lion play­ers since its in­tro­duc­tion.

“I’ve been here for two days of back-to-back meet­ings with re­tail­ers,” Sally said. “We are re­ally en­cour­aged by our meet­ings and the re­sponse of re­tail­ers that they will con­tinue to of­fer con­sumers a choice.”

In­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives said it would be un­usual for re­tail­ers to aban­don any for­mat so soon af­ter Christ­mas, for fear of spark­ing a flood of re­turns.

Here’s a roundup of other news and ob­ser­va­tions from the con­ven­tion: are do­ing with tech­nol­ogy and what they’re get­ting out of it.

Some of the an­swers were pro­vided by the Se­same Work­shop re­port. Oth­ers were pro­vided by a video Buckleitner shared of a 2-year-old play­ing with the V-Smile, which hooks up to a TV. The tod­dler ig­nored the big color­ful but­tons that con­trolled the ac­tion on the screen (in fact, he ig­nored the screen al­to­gether), and fix­ated on the onoff but­ton be­fore crawl­ing away.

Clearly, th­ese com­pa­nies still have a lot to learn.

Paul Sakuma As­so­ci­ated Press

PITCH: A “Pi­rates of the Caribbean” fig­ure dec­o­rates the Blu-ray booth at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas. Back­ers say 66% of all high-def­i­ni­tion movies sold in 2007 were Blu-ray.

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