I choose HD-DVD

A few days ago, HeadGeek at AICN declared he’d taken sides in the nextgen-DVD format war: he chose HD-DVD. I am inclined to follow his lead. At present I am in no position to purchase a HDTV (without which the choice of DVD format is moot), but I am confident enough in HD-DVD to make the decision well in advance.

There are a number of reasons why HD-DVD makes more sense. The fundamental reason, however, is simple: HD-DVD is backwards-compatible with standard DVD. Couple this with the fact that I will have to buy a new DVD player anyway once I upgrade to HDTV (which will be mandatory as of February 17th, 2009). My aging DVD player doesn’t support progressive scan, so watching DVD movies with my old player on a new HDTV would be masochistic. I anticipate that my TV viewing will be driven more by Blockbuster and BitTorrent than by broadcast, so the choice of DVD player becomes even more important. With a single box that supports upscaling like the Toshiba HD-A2 ($250 at Amazon), I get the full benefits of the HD resolution with my existing DVD library as well as any HD content I might be inclined to rent.

The other primary factor is cost. HD-DVD is simply cheaper, and maintains a healthy price advantage over Blu-Ray even despite recent moves by Sony to reduce the price. The irony here is that while BR players are overpriced now, they are likely to become very cheap in the future, because you can always get one at a subsidized cost by buying a Playstation 3. So there’s even more incentive to wait. The price of any gaming console is guaranteed to drop over time; witness that the PS2 now sells for $129. If at some point I do decide that I want a BR version of Lion King (Disney is exclusively BR), I’ll go and buy a PS3 and get maximum value; I anticipate we will see the PS3 at the $300 price point within a few years, especially as the Wii and XBox continue to clean Sony’s clock.

Much has been made of the fact that Blu-Ray enjoys wider studio support, but if there ever really is a movie truly exclusive to BR that I must have, I still can buy the standard DVD and upconvert on the A2, or I can bittorrent it down and watch on my HDTV (DRM on both formats is irreversibly compromised). But how likely is that anyway? Given that King Kong is out on HD-DVD, I’m not worried about Lord of the Rings following suit; and I’m enough of a purist about Star Wars that if Lucas gets his head out of his arse and gives me the Original, Unedited Trilogy (i.e., Han shoots first, etc) then that’s worth buying a PS3 for. Later. I can wait.

All the debate about which format is winning, based on sales, is essentially bogus anyway. The actual numbers of players sold is so insignificant thus far that any advantage enjoyed by one or the other is illusory and can’t be used to predict the longer-term trend. So I’m not worried about being locked into a “losing” format like BetaMax – again, at a bare minimum I will have backwards, upscaling compatibility with my existing DVDs. As far as I am concerned, the “format war” is just hype.

And anyway, Sony is evil. Some things you just can’t forgive.