Home theater format war ends, By Doug Thompson

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The final decision in the high-definition video format war was made in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Wal-Mart came down on the side of Blu-Ray rather than the HD DVD last week. One electronics industry analyst compared the decision to the fat lady singing.
For those blissfully unaware of this fight, there was a war over what would succeed the DVD for movies. The contenders were Sony’s Blu-Ray and Toshiba’s HD DVD.
Wal-Mart showed significant interest in HD DVD. It carried a very economical HD DVD player at Christmas. Player sales, apparently, were not great.
Toshiba can’t say Wal-Mart didn’t try. Besides, Wal-Mart’s decision may have decisively ended the format war, but HD DVD was losing anyway. A major movies studio that had supported HD DVD switched sides explicitly to end the suspense. Customers wisely weren’t buying as long as the format winner was unresolved.
DVDs are still more than beautiful enough for the average tube television. Big screen high definition sets, however, will make good use of the new format.
Many tech-savvy writers say that the whole “next format” is just a transition anyway. The technology for direct download of movie-quality video over the Internet is in the works. However, the end of the format war does have some serious effects.
First, it accelerates the sales of big, high-definition TV sets. People are more likely to buy a screen that can use high-definition if they can also by a high-definition content player without having to worry about whether that format will still be around.
Computer disc drives will go to Blu-Ray, too. This simplifies things.
On a more minor level, this format development is the best news for the long-suffering PlayStation 3 game machine in a very, very long time. The PS3 is nothing but a heavily subsidized Blu-Ray player in a game console’s clothing. Now there’s a good reason to buy one. In fact, want a very good deal on a Blu-Ray player? Go to a game equipment store and find a used PS3 that some frustrated gamer turned in because the supply of games for it was scanty and he didn’t have a big screen, high-definition TV.
Speaking of consoles, the first version of the Microsoft Xbox 360 had a failure rate of 16.4 percent, according to market research done by SquareTrade.
SquareTrade is a firm that provides warranties. It based its percentage on 1,000 customers who bought Xbox 360s. The first news story I found about it is at http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3166259.
Notably, the story includes comments from SquareTrade’s chief executive that most of the problems came from Xbox 360s with the original motherboard. That item’s been out of manufacture for a while. Also, Microsoft is putting a new, less-heat intensive chip set in the console sometime in August of this year, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Microsoft shelled out a billion dollars on fixing or replacing customers’ consoles last year, so everybody knew there was a problem. Nobody knew how bad it was, however, because MS wouldn’t give details. I’ve seen estimates as high as 30 percent in the press, but didn’t write much about them because they were mere guesses.
To give some idea of how bad this is: Your chances of having a Nintendo Wii or a PS3 go dud is about three out of 100. Your chances of having a vintage version of an Xbox 360 die were about one in six.
Now, to be fair, MS did start giving a heck of a warranty after the problems came to light.
Still, this reliability problem does help explain a few things. For instance, I always attributed the Xbox 360s abysmal sales in Japan to the Japanese being biased to their own products. However, I did wonder about whether the reliability factor was a problem. Japanese consumers have a reputation of expecting their products to work. The Xbox 360 may never recover over there. If Japan’s sales figures are any guide, they won’t.
The Xbox 360 can be made into an HD DVD player with an attachment, but there’s no point to that any more.
Analysts say the Blu-Ray victory is bad news for the Xbox 360. Whatever: The Wii, winner of the latest console war, can’t even play a DVD.

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