This week Microsoft and Intel announced that they had decided to support HD DVD over Blu-ray in the ongoing battle for the mindshare between the two formats. With most entertainment and computer corporations in the Blu-ray camp does the combined muscle of Intel and Microsoft change the game?
There are two factors that will determine the outcome of the HD DVD v Blu-ray battle, if it ever actually gets started: hardware support and content. Neither Microsoft nor Intel make DVD Player hardware or computers. Microsoft does have the Xbox360 but they have not (yet) committed to putting any high density optical drive in the Xbox360, although it’s now very likely that a future revision will include an HD DVD drive. This is likely to put a small brake on Xbox360 sales short term as people wait for the "one with the HD drive", shaving some of the gloss off the Xbox360’s lead over Sony’s Playstation 3 that will ship with an integrated Blu-ray drive.
In the HD DVD camp Toshiba are the only significant manufacturer of consumer electronics, players, and no computer company has committed to putting HD DVD drives in their PCs. Apple, Dell and HP have committed to shipping Blu-ray in their computers when the drives are available and Sony, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung and Panasonic are committed to producing Blu-ray players. Those five and nine other major players are committed to Blu-ray recorders and drives, with nine media manufacturers in the pipeline.
On the content side, about 60% of major studio content is committed to Blu-ray and about 40% to HD DVD.
The addition of Microsoft and Intel to the HD DVD camp changes none of this and ultimately won’t affect the momentum toward Blu-ray, of these two formats. However, what is equally likely is that neither format will gain enough traction ahead of the Holographic-based formats coming just a year or two behind HD DVD and Blu-ray. When consumers are considering investing in a drive, will they buy one of two incompatible formats, or will they wait for "the next big thing" to come down the track "a year" later?
The inclusion of draconian Digital Rights Management in both formats, although somewhat more restrictive in Blu-ray, makes both formats less attractive to the consumer. Although Microsoft and Intel claim that one of the deciding factors was the "ease" of making copies to a hard drive, the content owners are unlikely to allow too much flexibility, regardless of theoretical capability.
In this fight, the announcement this week amounts to a face slap, not a knockout blow. In fact, it may have simply been a distraction to Toshiba’s confirmation that HD DVD will ship "before Christmas" but instead in "February or March 2006". That will only be a few months ahead of Blu-ray nullifying much of HD DVD’s "first-to-market" advantage.