The last week has seen multiple nails added to the HD DVD coffin, with official price drops, extended Amazon clearance sales, and both Netflix and Best Buy announcing they have made the decision to back Blu-ray as the HD format of choice. Read on for a brief history of the HD format war, recent developments, our advice to consumers, and more bargains.
A Brief History
June 17, 2007 - Blockbuster announce they will exclusively stock Blu-ray in it's second HD rollout of 1,450 stores. The 250 stores in their initial HD trial will be the only Blockbuster stores to continue stocking HD DVD.
August 20, 2007 - Paramount and DreamWorks announce they will release exclusively on HD DVD. Prior to this date, Blu-ray held 88% of studio support, although this figure includes non-exclusive releases from Warner and Paramount.
January 4, 2008 - Warner Bros. announce they will release exclusively on Blu-ray as of June 1 this year. They also revealed plans to begin releasing HD DVD movies three weeks later than their DVD and Blu-ray counterparts, and have scheduled all of their current HD DVD exclusives as Blu-ray releases for later in 2008. This switch put 70% of Hollywood's movies on Blu-ray, and paved the way for Paramount to switch to Blu-ray - a clause in their agreement with Toshiba allowed them to release Blu-ray movies if Warner Bros. dropped their support of the HD DVD format.
January 10, 2008 - Universal Studios' contractual HD DVD exclusivity expires.
Both Universal and Paramount have recently issued remarkably similar statements regarding their alliance with HD DVD - "[Universal's/Paramount's] current plan is to continue to support the HD DVD format" - although given the vague wording, there is little to be determined from the statements - support for HD DVD doesn't mean exclusive support, and what about their future plan?
US big box retailer Best Buy has announced that their stores will predominantly stock Blu-ray movies as of early March, and recommend Blu-ray as the HD format of choice to un-savvy customers.
Movie rental service Netflix today announced they are making the move to Blu-ray exclusivity. While current stock of HD DVD will remain available to customers, they have ceased buying new titles and expect the phase out to be complete by the end of 2008.
Advice to Consumers
While HD DVD is dying a slow death, there's still advantages to owning an HD DVD player - even for those with a Blu-ray player. Players are creeping towards a mass market sub-$100 price, and our readers in the US get five free HD DVD movies with the purchase of any standalone Toshiba HD DVD player, including the Xbox 360 HD DVD player add-on and certain Toshiba laptops - a great way to subsidize the initial outlay.
While the existing library isn't exactly overwhelming, there's a lot of great stuff available, like the still-exclusive-for-at-least-a-few-months Transformers. As the format continues it's downward spiral, we can expect to see more and more movies available for under $20, and even lower once Toshiba finally abandons the format.
HD DVD is currently region free, meaning our readers from outside the US can take advantage of heavy discounting from online retailers - with a massive range of HD DVDs currently below $15 on Amazon, you're likely to find movies for far cheaper than your local retailer - even after shipping.
While dual-format HD DVD/Blu-ray players are currently available, the price is generally hundreds of dollars more than the combined price of a standalone Blu-ray player and standalone HD DVD player - so if you're short on space and cash, wait until the price drops below $500 before you consider a dual-format player.
The transfer from film to a digital format is currently the main contributing factor to the quality of the picture - not 720p vs 1080p, VGA vs HDMI, or $20 HDMI cable vs $100 HDMI cable. The quality of the transfer varies greatly from movie to movie - Transformers over VGA from an Xbox 360 looks far better than Casino Royale over HDMI from a PlayStation 3 through the same TV. Older films are especially susceptible to grain, so check up on the review sites before buying another copy of Army of Darkness.
HD DVD Bargains
Last week, Microsoft dropped the MSRP of their Xbox 360 HD DVD player add-on to $129.99 in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While this is already a great deal for those of you with the prerequisite Xbox 360 and HDTV, Amazon have been up to their old tricks, slashing a further $10 off the price of the player.
They've also added even more HD DVD titles to their 50% off sale, including recent films Black Snake Moan and Transformers.
For those of you without an Xbox 360, Toshiba's standalone HD-A30 1080p HD DVD player is currently available for $152.58 with free shipping, and includes The Bourne Conspiracy and 300 on HD DVD in the box, so you won't be stuck waiting for rebates.
Given the rarity of a 50% discount on box sets, it's worth mentioning the Mission Impossible Trilogy is available for $50, Star Trek The Original Series - Season One for $97.50, and if you can handle just 45% off, Planet Earth is available for $54.95.
Of course, with Blu-ray sales figures already dominating HD DVD, there's little reason for retailers to discount. Nevertheless, those of you with Blu-ray players can still find the odd bargain like Stir of Echoes, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, March of the Penguins, and A Scanner Darkly for under $15, and Planet Earth for $54.95.