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Blu-ray beats HD DVD... Now get ready for the next format war

Now that the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war is finally over, we can look forward to at least a couple years of peace before the next one breaks out.

I have to hand it to fellow analyst Rob Enderle. Way back in August of 2005, he called the high-def format war in a piece titled "Blu-ray Wins or Nothing Does."

Logo of the Blu-ray Disc Association, winner of the high-def disc format war The Blu-ray Disc Association

Then again, he also said in that article that "the more likely outcome is that the market will bypass both products and move to something else," so perhaps he wasn't perfectly prescient.

And come to think of it, a year later (in December 2006) he changed his mind entirely in columns titled "Optical HD Battle May Be Over: HD DVD Wins," "HD DVD Wins," and "Sony Kills Blu-ray."

And in August and even November of 2007, Enderle still believed HD DVD would win.

Well, if Rob Enderle couldn't predict the result, who could? Even just before the Consumer Electronics Show this year, when Warner Bros. Entertainment announced it would stop supporting HD DVD and join the Blu-ray camp, I was still hedging my bets: "Blu-ray wins, HD DVD loses. Probably.")

But when Wal-Mart--the Brünnhilde of modern retailing--took the stage last week to throw its weight behind Blu-ray, everyone knew it was over. And this week, Toshiba--leader of the DVD Forum, which developed HD DVD--officially conceded defeat. The company aims to end production on HD DVD hardware for home theaters as well as PCs by the end of March.

So we can all relax. Right?

Well, for a while, sure. But remember, DVD and Blu-ray were separated by only five or six years, so presumably we're due for yet another format three or four years from now. And a new format means the potential for a new format war.

The basic parameters are easy to predict. As I described last August in "After HD, what's next?" the heir apparent to HDTV is what's called "4K"-- that is, a display resolution with about 4,096 horizontal pixels and 2,160 scan lines. Sony already makes projectors that support this resolution. Red Digital Cinema makes 4K cameras. Director Peter Jackson has made a short film in 4K, and the "Final Cut" of Blade Runner was remastered in 4K.

So 4K is coming, and it isn't far away.

But why should there be a format war?

Well, there's always a format war. There was even a DVD format war, although we're all fortunate that it was resolved well before discs or players hit the market.

Sony will want to lead the transition to 4K, but the DVD Forum will still be around in five years. That's a recipe for a format war right there.

Will it happen? I sure hope not. Our best hope for a lasting peace is that Sony, Toshiba, and the rest of the DVD Forum members settle their differences and start working on the next generation immediately. If you have any influence within these companies, now's the time to start cooperating on technology development. The future won't wait.