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Warner goes Blu-ray exclusively, delivering crushing blow to HD DVD

Warner Brothers is dumping HD DVD and going Blu-ray exclusively. Does this spell the end of the format war?

Warner to HD DVD: That's all, folks.

The big buzz today around CNET offices in New York is the news that Warner Bros. Entertainment has decided to stop making HD DVD discs and will become a Blu-ray-only studio at the end of May. Needless to say, this is a major blow to the HD DVD camp, which earlier this year struck a deal with Paramount to go HD DVD exclusive. You could say this is a tit-for-tat move by Sony and the Blu-ray camp, but it's actually more of a clubbing because Warner has a much bigger library of movies than Paramount.

While rumors of Warner potentially dumping HD DVD have been circulating for the past few months, the timing of the announcement right before the start of the Consumer Electronics Show seems designed to inflict maximum damage to Toshiba's planned HD DVD push at the show. With lower prices on its standalone players and the Paramount deal, Toshiba and HD DVD backers such as Microsoft appeared to be gaining some momentum in the format war. But now the company is faced with a PR nightmare. (An HD DVD event is scheduled for Sunday in Las Vegas; it should be interesting). No one knows at this point what it took for Warner to say sayonara to HD DVD, but you can bet it involved a truckload of something.

Does this spell the end for HD DVD? If I had to give a yes or no answer, I'd have to say yeah, it's probably curtains. The fact is, with the lack of studio support, it's very hard to recommend to readers to buy an HD DVD player, even if it is half the price of a Blu-ray machine. All that said, things have looked bleak for Toshiba and HD DVD before and they've managed to scrap their way back into contention, so you never know. Feel free to weigh in after you read the full press release from Warner, which I've posted below via The Digital Bits:


Decision made in response to strong consumer preference for format

(January 4, 2008 - Burbank, CA) - In response to consumer demand, Warner Bros. Entertainment will release its high-definition DVD titles exclusively in the Blu-ray disc format beginning later this year, it was announced today by Barry Meyer, Chairman & CEO, Warner Bros. and Kevin Tsujihara, President, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.

"Warner Bros.' move to exclusively release in the Blu-ray disc format is a strategic decision focused on the long term and the most direct way to give consumers what they want," said Meyer. "The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers."

Warner Home Video will continue to release its titles in standard DVD format and Blu-ray. After a short window following their standard DVD and Blu-ray releases, all new titles will continue to be released in HD DVD until the end of May 2008.

"Warner Bros. has produced in both high-definition formats in an effort to provide consumer choice, foster mainstream adoption and drive down hardware prices," said Jeff Bewkes, President and Chief Executive Officer, Time Warner Inc., the parent company of Warner Bros. Entertainment. "Today's decision by Warner Bros. to distribute in a single format comes at the right time and is the best decision both for consumers and Time Warner."

"A two-format landscape has led to consumer confusion and indifference toward high definition, which has kept the technology from reaching mass adoption and becoming the important revenue stream that it can be for the industry," said Tsujihara. "Consumers have clearly chosen Blu-ray, and we believe that recognizing this preference is the right step in making this great home entertainment experience accessible to the widest possible audience. Warner Bros. has worked very closely with the Toshiba Corporation in promoting high definition media and we have enormous respect for their efforts. We look forward to working with them on other projects in the future."

What do you think? Is there any hope for HD DVD? Should Toshiba and Microsoft continue fighting or make a deal?