CES 2007: HD DVD press conference

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000000023613.jpgHD DVD’s event kicked off with a short film showing supposedly real people being asked questions about HD DVD Blu-ray and the format wars. It was hard to tell whether this was aimed at exposing the ordinary punter’s confusion about the two competing high def formats, or to simply poke fun at analysts, journos and that-bloke-down-the-pub continually trying to pick a winning horse for one reason or another.

After the film, the host arrived – none other than Billy Bush (no I don’t know who he is either) and he went on to give an nice big pat on the back to all those important industry types sitting at the front of the room and generally telling us all how wonderful HD DVD is, etc, etc.

At this point my attention would have started to wander but a few things did keep me interested. Firstly, that HD DVD seems to be doing a whole lot better as a format than I would have thought. Sure, it’s no surprise that they were blowing their own trumpet, but the stats are impressive. For instance there are now more than 250 HD DVD titles on the market, which means sales are increasing at a faster rate than good ol’ DVD did when it first hit the shelves.

More than 300 more titles are expect to be released over 2007 with an anticipated revenue of some $600m. Not bad. Most impressive of all, it was claimed that HD DVD is enjoying an adoption rate of 28 movies per player per year, which again is very similar, if not better than, DVD’s initial figures. This has been helped largely by its sale of ‘hybrid’ HD DVDs. They work as ordinary HD DVDs, but if you don’t have an HD DVD player handy you can just pop them in a standard DVD player and watch the SD version. Very smart idea. This has helped people ease themselves into the HD idea and makes building a decent HD DVD library a bit less intimidating.

HD DVD is also outselling Blu-ray – small wonder given that HD DVD was first to the market by a long way. However, HD DVD didn’t seem to want to dwell on its position in the market relative to Blu-ray, certainly there was little mention of the format war. There was very much the feeling of HD DVD establishing itself as the underdog, and the underdog that everyone loves. Not like that big nasty Sony Blu-ray bully.

After the stats it was time for the hardware news and a new announcement for some features soon to be enabled in HD DVD players. HD DVD players all have an ethernet connection and this is going to be used much more over the coming year. Along with ever improved in-movie interactivity options (such as screen in screen video commentary and storyboard clips), which have apparently been a bit of a sleeper hit taking even HD DVD manufacturers by surprise, you’ll soon be able to start sharing content.

Woah there! Content sharing through HD DVD? Before we get too excited, this isn’t going to mean Bit Torrent-esque downloads for your HD DVD drive. In fact all they were demonstrating at the press conference was a pretty unexciting option where by you can save sections from certain films, very much like bookmarking, then let your friends (who also own a copy of the movie) see your bookmarked clips. Billy Bush (someone please tell me who he is) seemed very keen on it; personally I don’t see it making much of an impression at all. Especially when you’ll have to sign up through some HD DVD forum, then add your friends, and then all you get is a bit of a film you already have to see. Maybe it will have better business or educational connotations.

What was more exciting though, was that it looks like HD DVD will be offering downloadable trailers from its servers, and a new system whereby advertisers can give out codes that let you access short clips from upcoming titles. In theory it should even be possible to then check out your local cinema times through your player.

It all seems pretty smart and it is clear that HD DVD has firmly established itself in the HD market. Now its up to Blu-ray to knock it off its perch – something that will be extremely difficult using a more complicated, more expensive technology.

Check out the rest of our CES coverage.

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