Time Warner has officially thrown its weight behind Sony's Blu-ray disc format. In an announcement released yesterday, Warner Bros says that it will now release its catalogue of high-def titles exclusively on Blu-ray beginning in June.
"Warner Bros.' move to exclusively release in the Blu-ray disc format is a strategic decision focused on the long term and the most direct way to give consumers what they want," said Barry Meyer, the Chairman & CEO of Warner Bros.
"A two-format landscape has led to consumer confusion and indifference toward high definition," said Kevin Tsujihara, President of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. According to recent stats, Blu-ray discs have outsold HD DVDs by a ratio of 2:1.
"[The format war] has kept the technology from reaching mass adoption and becoming the important revenue stream that it can be for the industry," Tsujihara added.
End to confusion?
The announcement is undoubtedly a kick in the two-veg for Toshiba and the HD DVD format. Warner Bros. had previously sat on the HD fence, releasing its movies (such as the swords-'n'-sandals epic, 300) in both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. And by doing so, consumers benefited. They could choose which format to buy, rather than having the choice made for them.
The HD DVD
camp promptly cancelled its press conference at CES after the Warner announcement. Toshiba issued a press release saying that it was "quite surprised" by the decision."
HD DVD faces uphill battle
Of course, this new Warner Bros. strategy doesn't come as a huge surprise. Despite Warner's initial support for HD DVD, Dan Silberberg, vice president of HD media at Warner Bros. hinted at the studio's preference for Blu-ray back in October 2007.
"When both formats launched and hardware prices were high, we made a decision to support both formats and let the consumer decide," Silberberg said.
"But now that hardware pricing is affordable for both Blu-ray and HD DVD, it appears consumers no longer want to decide - so the notion of staying in two formats for the duration is something we are re-evaluating. We can definitely talk Blu-ray. We are committed to the format."
Warner has confirmed that all new titles will continue to be released in HD DVD until the end of May 2008. But HD DVD owners will miss out on the Will Smith Xmas blockbuster I am Legend, not to mention HD discs of 2008 movies like the Batman sequel The Dark Knight and comic book adaptation Watchmen.
Is the HD battle over?
So where does all this leave HD DVD? Warner's move could well be the tipping point - we'll either see a quick collapse of support for the HD DVD format or a backs-to-the-wall fight led by Toshiba that will stretch out the battle deep into 2008.
Blu-ray now enjoys exclusive Hollywood studio support from Sony, MGM, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Lionsgate. HD DVD is limited to Universal and Paramount content, plus movies from New Line Cinema (which also releases Blu-ray versions).
The HD DVD camp will undoubtedly fight on. While Warner Bros. has dropped an atom bomb to swing the battle to Blu-ray, the battle is not yet won. Upscaling DVD players still look like the smartest investment, although it will be interesting to see if Blu-ray's potentially winning position gives Sony's PlayStation 3 console a dramatic sales boost.