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Time Warner’s Total HD Disc Adds Confusion To HD Disc Format War Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 January 2007
And now there are three? According to reports today from The New York Times, Time Warner will be showing a new disc called Total HD at the upcoming CES trade show in Las Vegas that will host both Blu-ray and HD DVD content on a single disc. The move comes as Blu-ray and HD DVD are fighting a bitter format war the likes we haven’t seen since VHS versus Beta. The new disc is slated to be more expensive than a traditional DVD release of a movie and can play on HD DVD players including the external drive of a Microsoft Xbox 360 game system or Blu-ray players including the hard-to-find Sony Playstation 3. The question is will consumers care? Both current formats have shown their weaknesses in the first few months on the market. Early HD DVD players took as long as two minutes to load and early Blu-ray players from the likes of Samsung have clunky, 1998-looking hourglass icons as you wait for your movie to load. Nobody that has seen a movie on either format has complained about the picture (other than on a few discs with grainy/poor transfers) yet installers and dealers are furious about the ineffectiveness of the HDCP copy protection that comes on the HD video output of both players. Unlike your computer where one cable connects from point A to point B – the one cable on these new players called an HDMI cable, suffers from serious reliability problems thanks to the disc’s content protection scheme. One day the player is making its “handshake” with your receiver and or your HDTV and the next day it’s not. Dealers who are selling the new players are using analog component video outputs which are far more reliable however they do not pass the highest resolution 1080p video signal.

There are a number of ways that any one side be it the Blu-ray, HD DVD or now the Time Warner camp can do to win the format war thus becoming the default HD disc format. These include:

1. Find a way to price players at $299 or less.

2. Make HDCP copy protection not cause handshake issues. Literally any player needs to hook up with any receiver, switcher or HDTV and work 100 percent of the time.

3. Price all HD discs at $19.99 to $24.99. Release new movies on an HD format weeks before the DVD version.

4. Improve the functionality of HD players so that their basic functions work as well as a $50 DVD player at Costco meaning no slow load times, lame menus and icons and add RS232 control.

5. When promoting home video releases on DVD also mention the Blu-ray, HD DVD or Total HD product in the ads.

6. Release only the best, newest films most conducive to looking good in HD. Grainy films tend to still look grainy in HD. Dark films tend to still look dark in HD. Newer films tend to look a little better which should be factored into what movies get released sooner rather than later.

Time will tell if Time Warner has the answer with their Total HD discs. Critics question if the disc replication costs make the product realistic. Retailers will surely resist the idea of a dual format disc as it causes stocking problems and will confuse their retail staff as well as their consumers. Having both Blu-ray and HD DVD is confusing enough. Ultimately, the battle for mainstream consumers will come down to value proposition. Right now for all but the early adopters who need the best picture on their HDTV today, people are in a holding pattern waiting to buy players. The studios and electronics companies alike need to look at the problems that are directly in front of them in terms of copy protection, player price points, quality of disc offering and overall branding before worrying about marketing another disc format to consumers who are just learning why they need an HD disc format for their HDTVs.

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