Universal Studios Unlikely to Ever Support Blu-ray

A statement made on paper by Universal Studios president Craig Kornblau, and distributed by the HD DVD Promotions Group to attendees of CEDIA Expo 2006 in Denver last Friday, cites the early reviews from first-adopters in the next-generation videodisc battle as indication that HD DVD has already been crowned champion in the battle against Blu-ray.

"Look at the blogs, look at the reviews by the early adopters and even look at the mainstream media," stated Kornblau. "HD DVD has maintained its first-to-market advantage and delivered on the promises of providing the best high definition image and sound quality at the best value for consumers today."

Universal Studios has been an early supporter of HD DVD since the beginning of the so-call format war, and is seen as the leading major studio in that camp with no intention of considering joining Warner and Paramount in supporting both formats. Disney, an early Blu-ray supporter, has been reported to consider both formats, while 20th Century-Fox is seen as the stalwart studio in the Blu-ray camp.

Sony's position as Blu-ray's champion is seen as unyielding, since it produces movies and Blu-ray components for both home theaters and PCs.

The issue of widespread studio support is of prime importance to the videodisc retail and rental industry, upon whose well-being the whole video industry still depends. Retailers would rather not divide their shelf space into more than two compartments -- standard-definition (NTSC) and high-def -- if they can at all avoid it. If consumers have to ask store clerks whether or not a disc will play on their machine, just that uncertainty might be enough to make both the consumers and the retailers unwilling to invest in high-definition discs and components of either format.

Kornblau asked consumers to check the blogs. We do that from time to time, and today, we have yet to see clear evidence of consensus - in fact, we're seeing many sources who have either warmed up to both formats for their picture quality, or turned a cold shoulder to both formats for their initial missteps.

In Home Theater Forum, attendees of CEDIA Expo report seeing the latest Blu-ray demonstrations from Sony and others as equaling, if not yet exceeding, HD DVD quality.

Early in the game, Blu-ray supporters including Sony touted its 1080p (progressive) scan capability early on as inherently superior to 1080i (interlaced), while HD DVD supporters including Toshiba responded by saying that interlacing the disc encoding would not affect the quality of the picture in any appreciable fashion. Many, though not all, of the first reviews from video experts would seem to validate Toshiba's view.

But then on Thursday, Toshiba became the first manufacturer to announce the second wave of high-definition players. Showing the first new models behind glass at CEDIA Expo, Toshiba said the HD-A2 and HD-XA2 will feature 1080p resolution, calling it "the highest HD signal currently available." So if Sony had an advantage there for awhile, there it went.

The HD-XA2 will also support the new 1.3 specification for HDMI, the high-definition interconnect standard. This standard enables higher bandwidth connections for lossless audio codecs, plus support for newer video compression schemes. Learning this news, a few HD-XA1 and HD-A1 owners, who are also members of the AV Science Forum, reported feeling "screwed out" of new features that may not be coming their way as upgrades.

Others delighted in the fact that HD-XA1 prices could drop in anticipation of newer models. Almost anywhere you look, if you're searching for evidence of tipped scales, you'll find none.

However, a "scale tipper" could be waiting in the wings, as Toshiba has yet to reveal whether its "2" series will include the newest version of AACS copy protection. It wasn't mentioned in the company's initial releases, and subsequent inquiries into the subject by video experts have gone unresolved - perhaps because it's not a feature people particularly want.

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