The battle between the two competing next-generation DVD formats – Blu-ray and HD DVD – has left consumers confused and manufacturers anxious. But many people believe Sony's decision the back Blu-ray and include the technology in its PlayStation 3 (PS3) console has given the format an edge over its cheaper rival.
However, the movie studios also have a big part to play in helping decide which spec (if any) will become dominant and this week two of the biggest names in the industry made their views clear. In a surprise move, Paramount and DreamWorks Animation announced that they would align themselves exclusively with the HD DVD high-definition format.
The controversial decision has attracted a lot of attention, and not just because it comes at a time when market indicators have been pointing to competitor Blu-ray Disc as having the lead (disc sales have been running 2-1 in Blu-ray's favour).
Rumours have swirled since the news broke, suggesting that Paramount and DreamWorks are being heavily compensated for their exclusivity pact - to the tune of $50m and $100m respectively. A Paramount spokesperson says only: " ... whenever we conduct co-marketing, production deals, or other agreements, we never discuss business terms."
I don't doubt that some level of financial incentive made this a good business decision for the two studios. But according to Alan Bell, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Paramount Pictures, there's more to the change in allegiance than either a mere abandonment of Blu-ray's higher-capacity advantage or pure business dealings.
Here's some background from Bell about the recent news.
Q: Presumably, making this move wasn't something you did lightly. What led up to the decision to shift your production exclusively to HD DVD?
Bell: Paramount has been getting experience with publishing titles in both formats for the last year. We've had a hands-on ability to see how these formats work in practice. And after some hands-on analysis, we decided that HD DVD was the format we wanted to support.
Why was that?
For one thing, the lower prices of the players: It's good for consumers, it's good for our customer base.
For another thing, HD DVD came out of the DVD Forum. The DVD Forum is very experienced at developing and managing specs. [HD DVD] was launched in a very stable way, with stable specifications, and they had specified a reference player model, so all players had to be compatible with the HDi interactivity layer, and all players had to be capable of the interactivity. So when we publish titles in the future that have interactivity, we can be assured that every HD DVD player will be able to handle this content.
So, as a studio, you believe that the underlying stability of HD DVD's specs is a benefit?
When you look at what the DVD Forum has specified as required, it's a good set of advanced technologies. You can be assured that that benefit will be available to all consumers, no matter what [player] model they purchased. That speaks to the DVD Forum, that it published specs that were complete and market-ready, and that it didn't need to publish up [and change the specs], as Blu-ray has. To some degree, [such changes are] going to create some legacy issues.
For example, HD DVD players have [ethernet] connectivity built-in. If the player doesn't have that, or it's optional, you can't rely on that [as a feature].