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Countdown To Blu-ray’s Victory

If the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD contest was a heavyweight championship fight, the boxer’s manager would have stepped in and stopped the match. In this case HD DVD’s manager — Toshiba president/CEO Atsutoshi Nishida — stopped the fight, which enables Toshiba to reinvest in other technologies and results in the CE and movie industries to back one HD disc format, Blu-ray.

Using the boxing analogy again, Warner’s decision on the eve of International CES to back Blu-ray was practically knockout punch that HD DVD that the format really never recovered from.

Like a game fighter HD DVD got up, a bit dazed, and vowed to fight on. But talk by Best Buy’s Brad Anderson and Circuit City’s Phil Schoonover during the Retail Power Panel at CES backing Warner’s decision was another body blow, followed by Blockbuster’s Blu-ray statement in mid-January.

But what happened during the week of Feb. 10 seemed like an orchestrated set of Blu-ray announcements — first Netflix, then Best Buy and finally Wal-Mart on Friday, Feb. 15 announced support for HD DVD’s rival. The effect was like Muhammad Ali delivering a series of combination punches, and it was the end of the battle.

Of course, Blu-ray backers could say, “What took Toshiba so long to drop HD DVD?”

For this reporter, Toshiba’s move to drop HD DVD after these three retailers made their decision was not surprising except in its speed. Equally so were the subsequent explosions of stories on President’s Day weekend datelined from Tokyo predicting HD DVD’s demise “soon” by anonymous sources; it was unlike the end of any other format war I’ve seen. Credit the ubiquitous nature of the Web for that, along with the public’s fascination with all things involving CE.

This column is not the venue for reviews of each of the format’s features. There’s been plenty of discussion of that on the Web, and in the Talkback section of whenever we have posted a HD disc story. From a business point of view, during this format battle Blu-ray sold from 2006 to the end of last year around 3.5 million or 3.7 million decks, excluding PC or game drives. Using the same criteria, HD DVD sold more than 1 million decks or so, depending upon the survey you’re looking at.

So what’s up next? Consumers now know Blu-ray is the only HD format and sales should build, especially if prices fall and retailers bundle the decks with HDTVs to sell up. As for a new potential rival, downloadable HD movies and content, by all accounts it is still a couple of years away from being a factor. And there will be a back-and-forth between Toshiba and its retailers on returns and the like.

As for Toshiba itself, financial analysts have theorized that its decision will help its bottom line. The company itself said it would look at other technologies that will “drive mass-market access to high-definition content” like high-capacity NAND flash memory, among others.

Hey, maybe down the road Toshiba might even begin to offer Blu-ray decks in its line. On that last point, while it could happen, I wouldn’t hold my breath about it.