Hype Sheet Special: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD for All the Marbles

Few things set geek hearts aflutter like a juicy hardware rivalry. Who among us hasn't thoroughly enjoyed taking sides in such legendary throwdowns as Mac versus PC, PlayStation versus Xbox, or (for the truest of old-timers) Atari versus Intellivision? It's thus in our nature to pay excessive attention to the raging Blu-ray versus HD DVD imbroglio, which is several shades more entertaining that any other ongoing battle. Enormous vats of digital ink have been spilled in the name of arguing which format is better. But quality doesn't always guarantee victory—just ask the Betamax. Who, then, is winning the disc-of-tomorrow advertising war? We'll start with HD DVD's latest entrant, starring...ex-San Diego Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer? What, Rich Kotite wasn't available?

HD DVD's Pitch Toshiba is obviously no great believer in splashy ads, as they clearly spent a pittance on this spot. Not only did the HD DVD champion refuse to pay for the right to use NFL logos, it also hired an out-of-work, notoriously uncharismatic coach as its spokesman. (Toshiba also seems to have skimped on the dialogue—the exchange between Coach Schottenheimer and Number 11 is, uh, less than inspired.) Despite the clumsy execution, however, the goal here is wise—the majority of consumers are sitting out the format wars, because they're afraid of picking the loser and then being saddled with expensive doorstops. So the combo-disc approach makes sense, as does the college-lecture vibe; at this point, consumer education is a priority.


Mission Accomplished? Absolutely not, because Toshiba botches the most important part of the ad: the website mention. As of this writing, HDDVDNBC.com brings up nothing but a blank page. How can consumers be expected to trust a new technology that doesn't deliver on so simple a promise? The folks behind this campaign better get on that quick, because this ad will doubtless air several times during Saturday's Jacksonville-Pittsburgh wildcard game. (It was in heavy rotation during last week's Colts-Titans game.)

Blu-ray's Pitch The PS3 becomes some sort of nightmarish robot, in order to tout the console's secondary use as a Blu-ray player. Sony, of course, loves to tout its PS3 sales as evidence that the Blu-ray format will eventually win out; though only 370,000 standalone Blu-ray players have been sold (about 200,000 less than standalone HD DVD players), there are 3.4 million Blu-ray drives in PS3s. On top of that, the new PS3 drives feature the most up-to-date BD Profile 1.1 spec. Not that there's any specs porn in this spot, nor any hint of reassurance for consumers who fear picking a loser. The ad is all about the dazzle—though the impact of that dazzle will vary greatly according to your TV's might.

Mission Accomplished? The crunching soundtrack and sharp Ratatouille visuals pack punch, but is it enough to pull consumers off the fence? People are already vaguely aware that both Blu-ray and HD DVD offer superior picture quality, as well as multiple camera angles. Unfortunately, those features are difficult to convey in a thirty-second spot, especially if viewed on a sub-1080p HDTV. Blu-ray should really shout-out its consumer-ed website, which makes a strong case for why folks with high-end TVs should invest in HD players.

And the Winner Is... Blu-ray, but only by default. HD DVD's approach is corny, sure, but it also provides exactly what mainstream consumers need right now: reassurance that they aren't risking hundreds of dollars by betting on one format over another. That said, incompetence on the interactive end kills the spot. Blu-ray, on the other hand, gets the wow factor right, and touts the added-value aspect by rolling its pitch into the PS3's ongoing campaign. But Sony needs to do a better job of educating consumers, or risk leaving that job entirely in the hands of retail salesmen—who, if they're honest, may very well recommend that potential buyers wait until next year, when dual-format players may finally come down into the realm of affordability.

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 also think that one of the things that is hurting the consumer market (albeit hardcore media junky consumers), is the lack of a HD-DVD Burner option. We saw only one of those back at some Tech Show in July for what, $1000? And it could only burn at 1x at that. Yeah a little bit worse than current Blu-Ray burners, but still an option. Have we seen it released for consumers though? No! Can't find it anywhere! That really gives BR a leg up and makes it difficult for (lets face it) video pirates to keep their collections going strong thus buying into the HD-DVD hype.

I mean it may not be a strong argument, but it does kinda show how BR has a leg up over HD-DVD.