We predicted some time ago that this year's CES would bring with it some sort of announcement about the future of Warner's HD format allegiance. It turns out that even before CES is officially underway, Warner has announced that it will stop selling both Blu-ray and HD DVD versions of its movies, and will focus exclusively on Blu-ray.
If we're honest, this is almost a relief -- in much the same way as having a painful frost-bitten hand removed might provide some relief to the owner. The war had to end sometime, and 2008 seems as good a time as any to move forward.
Of course, Warner is pushing this very much as a move designed to help the consumer and reduce confusion. Its position is understandable. Blu-ray does outsell HD DVD and supporting two formats was never going to be a viable long-term plan. Did Warner get a pay-off? Well, rumours are that hundreds of millions of dollars could have changed hands, similar to the much-denied but never proved HD DVD/Paramount pay-off, although Warner strongly denies this.
You'll be able to buy Warner HD DVDs until May 2008, after which it's Blu-ray all the way. Warner's decision to go exclusive means that big studio support for HD DVD comes only from Paramount and Universal. We suspect Paramount will switch over when its marketing contract with the HD DVD group ends in a year or so. Interestingly, Warner-owned HBO and New Line are still platform-agnostic, for the time being. But we expect them to follow the parent company over to the Blu side soon enough.
So, what does this mean to the man on the street? Well, on the plus side, Blu-ray has more storage space, with more room for extras, along with higher bit-rate audio. On the negative side, we're stuck with a format that doesn't yet have a finished standard and is fastened up to the neck with dodgy copy protection.
We do have some questions though: when will we see The Matrix box set on Blu-ray? How will Warner continue to produce good interactive features on a format that doesn't widely support profile 1.1 yet? What happens to everyone who bought HD DVD versions of Warner movies -- will there be a trade-in programme or will they just have to buy everything again?
Interestingly, Apple is rumoured to be introducing Blu-ray drives in its machines at Macworld this year. If that happens, the momentum behind Blu-ray will be unstoppable.
So cheers to Beta-ray and rest in peace HD DVD, it's been real. -Ian Morris