The next-gen disc format war gets uglier, more ridiculous

Paramount and Dreamworks announce they're abandoning Blu-ray Discs in favor of HD DVD. One more reason not to buy either.

Published August 20, 2007 11:23PM (EDT)

Paramount and Dreamworks said today that they're abandoning support for Blu-ray Disc and will begin putting out their movies exclusively on HD DVD, one more step in the aggressively consumer-unfriendly march of large entertainment and tech firms (Sony on the Blu-ray side, Microsoft on the HD DVD side) to leave many people sitting with obsolete equipment -- and to drive both of these allegedly next-generation discs into the ground.

The fight, if you're not hip to it, concerns which technical specification of plastic disc will one day reign as the premier delivery vehicle for high-definition videos. Partisans on each side go on endlessly about which is superior -- HD DVD is cheaper to manufacture, but Blu-ray possibly holds more data, etc. Paramount and Dreamworks say that after initially supporting both, they're choosing HD DVD for its "market-ready technology" (whatever that means) in addition to the lower production costs.

Next week the Will Ferrell film "Blades of Glory" will be the first Paramount picture to come out exclusively on HD DVD; later this year, Dreamworks will put out "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers" on the format. HD DVD will also see several summer hits from HD DVD-only Universal, including "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Knocked Up" and "Evan Almighty."

Gizmodo does a fine job measuring the battlefield as it stands. They come up with 10 studios for HD DVD and Blu-ray each -- some studios are supporting one format only, some are supporting both. So the battle is even.

But do you care? As many commentators have noted, by the time the fight shakes out and we see a winner declared, we'll already have moved long beyond delivering video content on permanent plastic media. Every year, hard drives and solid-state memory systems are getting physically smaller, more capacious, and cheaper; the Internet, meanwhile, is getting roomier (even if not as fast as we'd all like).

Sure, it'll be some time before you can download a high-definition movie from Netflix or buy a hard drive packed with every episode of "The Wire." But considering the attrition war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, it'll be some time, too, before it becomes clear which one to buy without getting burned.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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