Hype Sheet: HD DVD's Plight in a Nutshell

The Pitch "Originality? We don't need no stinkin' originality!" So sayeth Toshiba's ad agency, which commissioned this stunningly unimaginative Super Bowl spot (which we previously lampooned as the game's "Best Lost Cause"). Three slovenly friends enjoy the big game—sans authorized NFL logos, natch—while cheerleaders cartwheel by. Once the game's over, the couch potatoes switch over to HD DVD versions of Transformers and The Bourne Ultimatum—cinematic choices that allow them to add a couple of shapely females to the mix. All this entertainment can now be yours for the low, low price of $149.99! Yet given how badly HD DVD has slipped versus Blu-Ray in recent weeks, will Toshiba's meat-and-potatoes message (and quickie price reduction) save the day? A key making-of-the-ad detail reveals a sad truth.


The Spin Note the carefully selected buzz phrase "true high-definition"—as if something called "false high-definition" exists, too. Toshiba knows that millions of consumers are first introduced to high-def at the Super Bowl, where "normal" folks gorge on Buffalo wings at the homes of early adopters. (I, for one, first encountered high-def in the wild at a Super Bowl XXXVII party.) Those who want the HD buzz to continue, then, would be wise to upgrade to an HD DVD player—one that, the commercial is careful to stress, will make even your existing discs look better than you ever dared dream. How much better? Toshiba is glad you asked: It claims its players offer "up to six times the details of DVD." Yes, Toshiba has adopted the language of shady diet-pill purveyors that promise weight loss of "up to" 30 pounds.

Counterspin There's something to be said for Toshiba's earnestness, as consumers are begging to be educated about the merits of high-def DVD. But the follow-through here is as weak as the 1980s beer-commercial setup. Toshiba muddles its message by pointing out that HD DVD's resolution edge will make your current DVDs look better, too (a claim which some commentators will likely challenge). The company obviously thought such reassurance might comfort buyers who fear making the wrong HD bet, but doesn't it just make things even more confusing? It's almost as if Toshiba is resigning itself to losing the studio battle against Blu-ray, and will henceforth hawk HD DVD players as tools to goose existing DVD titles. If HD DVD players are just gonna be the cinematic equivalents of enhanced dial-up, isn't the cut-rate $149.99 price tag still a little high? Especially in light of Microsoft's decision yesterday to cut the price of the Xbox 360 add-on HD DVD player to $129.99.

Mission Accomplished? Every pundit and his dog has a take on the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray imbroglio nowadays, with the verdicts generally ranging from "HD DVD is dead" to "HD DVD is grievously wounded, but alive." Warner's decision to cast its lot with Sony may wind up being a business-school case study for years to come, yet another example of the Tipping Point phenomenon that has made Malcolm Gladwell an egghead demigod. Perhaps back-scene shenanigans led Warner to make that fateful choice, but don't underestimate how badly Toshiba botched its marketing. The company completely ignored the wow factor in favor of the staid consumer-education approach—a miscue we've criticized before. In the end, Toshiba may have simply gotten in over its head—its strength has long been value, not glamour. It certainly doesn't have the geek cache of Sony, which has been an HD leader for years. Huge case in point (and the insider detail alluded to atop this column): According to a member of this ad's production crew, Toshiba insisted that the spot be shot on HD instead of film. That meant breaking out some Sony cameras, which have become the industry standard. If you have to use your chief rival's HD hardware to make your own HD ad, that can't bode too well for your long-term prospects.

Hype-O-Meter 1.5 (out of 10). I was actually going to rate this higher because I have a soft spot for sincerity, but the lack of creativity becomes progressively more irritating after repeated viewings. A last gasp from a format that may soon go the way of the Vectrex—although, hey, you never know.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.


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I like how they have everyone sitting there jumping around watching their movies. When I show people Blu-Ray on my TV they sit there like fascinated puppies, unable to blink or speak. That should be Blu-Ray's ad... "Be hypnotized by Blu.. HD DVD is for spazzes."