CES 2007: Blu-ray confident of victory

At a jingoistic Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) press conference today at CES, Hollywood execs from 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. happily lined up to shovel praise onto Sony's high-definition disc format.

"Blu-ray disc has what it takes to win the format war," said Andy Parsons, the senior vice president of advanced product development at Pioneer Electronics and a BDA member. He went on to spell out three advantages that Blu-ray has over its Toshiba-backed HD DVD rival.

Firstly, there's the 'content advantage'. It's hard to argue with the simple fact that seven out of the eight major Hollywood studios are supporting Blu-ray. Five of them - Sony Pictures, MGM, Buena Vista, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate - are doing so exclusively.

And in what amounts to a kick in the teeth for the HD DVD camp, on December 24th sales of Blu-ray discs surpassed sales of HD DVDs for the first time.

Secondly, the BDA emphasised its 'hardware advantage'. While they acknowledged that Blu-ray take-up has been slow so far, they were quick to counter with the fact that many of the Blu-ray players available today were only launched in late 2006. With a variety of Blu-ray and HD DVD players now available, 2007 will surely be the year when the high-def format war is won.

Thirdly, there's the 'PlayStation 3 advantage'. Sony has announced at CES that it had shipped over one million PS3 consoles by December 31st 2006, thereby giving the Blu-ray format a strong foothold in homes across North America and Japan. Hampered by limited supplies of its machine at launch, the prospects for Blu-ray will only improve in the run up to the European launch in March.

Andy Parsons was then joined onstage by representatives of the major movie studios that have pledged to support the Blu-ray format.

Mike Dunne, President of 20th Century Fox Worldwide Home Entertainment talked about how the format war is in its final phase. "If DVD is where the consumer is today," he said, "then Blu-ray is where the consumer is going to be." Fox plans to release 7-10 Blu-ray titles per month in 2007, including more 50Gb discs with extra content and interactive features.

Steve Beeks, President of Lionsgate Worldwide Home Entertainment, sees Blu-ray as the catalyst for the reinvention of packaged media. "We expext 2007 to be the year when Blu-ray establishes itself as the format of the future," he said. Lionsgate plans to release 40-50 titles during 2007.

Kelley Avery, President of Paramount Worldwide Home Entertainment; Ron Sanders, President of Warner Bros Worldwide Home Entertainment; Bob Chapek, President of Buena Vista Worldwide Home Entertainment and David Bishop, President of Sony Pictures Worldwide Home Entertainment all had similar 'we love you Blu-ray' stories.

Yes, there was an overabundance of Blu-ray flag-waving in this press conference, but the industry support for Blu-ray is hard to ignore.

Andy Parsons concluded the press conference with a sobering summation of the situation. "Consumers are more concerned with content availability than the fornat," he said. "Can I get the movies I like? Not being able to watch a Disney movie like Cars in high-def could be a real deal-killer for HD DVD."