The Death of HD DVD: Maybe the name itself had something do with it

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Movies, Technology
February 19th, 2008 • 4:21 pm

I cannot help but wonder whether what ultimately killed HD DVD was simply the name of the format.

The evidence: The story must obviously have been on the mainstream news today, because my 85-year-old father-in-law, who got his first-ever (regular) DVD player a year ago as a Christmas present, called me this afternoon and asked me: “They had something on the news about DVDs today… Does this mean that I will no longer be able to rent/buy DVDs?

My father-in-law is far from dumb. He does the Globe And Mail‘s cryptic crossword puzzle every day (and usually finishes it). He reads a lot. But of course he doesn’t know much about technology. He got himself a new Panasonic plasma TV earlier this year, but still has trouble figuring out exactly how many HD channels he actually gets with his current cable provider. He enjoys the tennis and the golf and the nature shows in HD, but does not always bother to wait one extra hour to watch some of the regular CBC programming in HD instead of SD on the local channel.

He also does not buy any DVDs and rarely rents them. (To be honest, the Christmas present was a bit of a dud.) So he doesn’t actually know a whole lot about DVDs.

But I think it is still telling that, upon hearing the news about HD DVD today, he became concerned about his continuing ability to play DVDs on his current player.

Clearly, the “HD DVD” name itself was not enough of a departure from “DVD” to make it clear in everyone’s mind that it was an entirely different format. In that respect, there is no ambiguity about “Blu-ray.”

Now that one format has won, it is possible that, over time, it will replace regular DVDs to the point that people will also call the new format “DVD,” just for convenience’s sake. (“Blu-ray” works better as a modifier than as a noun. “Disc” is too generic and “Blu-ray disc” is a bit too long.) But for now at least, I think it will be clearer in the minds of people like my father-in-law that “DVDs” and “Blu-ray discs” are two different things, and that you need a special new player in order to be able to play the latter.

I am not seriously saying that the name itself is what killed HD DVD, of course. But it seems to me that it didn’t help clear the format confusion in the minds of non-technical people, who of course will have to be won over for the new format to supersede the existing standard DVD. (Paradoxically, now that HD DVD is dead, it will be easier to abbreviate “high-definition DVDs” as “HD DVDs” without causing any confusion about the format!)

Personally, I am very glad that the format war is already over. While I was always eventually going to purchase a high-definition player and start building up a collection of HD discs, I never was in any hurry to embrace the new format—even though I have the required equipment for it—for a variety of reasons.

One is of course that I didn’t really want to spend any money until the stupid format war was over, just in case (even though I would probably have chosen Blu-ray and therefore would not have regretted my decision).

Another one was that, frankly, regular DVDs already look and sound pretty impressive on my system, with my upconverting DVD player. I know that high-definition DVDs will look and sound even better, of course, but regular DVDs on my system are already orders of magnitude better than regular DVDs were on my previous system, and they provide a very enjoyable experience as it is. High-definition DVDs will not provide another quantum leap, but more of an incremental improvement.

Yet another reason was that, at this point, most of the high-definition titles are still movies and recordings that I have little interest in. While I do enjoy the occasional blockbuster, I am mostly interested in a catalogue of movies and recordings that is not yet available in high-definition. Presumably this will all start changing now as the Blu-ray bandwagon gathers momentum, the prices drop and more studios and labels join in.

Finally, it seems to me that the Blu-ray format is still a work in progress and they still have to work out the bugs and kinks and achieve a truly stable standard with no compatibility issues of any kind and all the promised features. I suspect that this will still take a little while so, again, I am not in any hurry. I already spend enough time dealing with software bugs and hardware flaws in my day job, so I like to keep my entertainment as bug-free as possible!

I am also wondering exactly how long it will take before we have affordable devices that can both play and record Blu-ray discs and let us archive high-definition content recorded off the TV. This, of course, is an even thornier issue, with all the stupid copy-protection stuff interfering with legitimate, honest uses of a recorder, so I don’t really expect this particular issue to be solved any time soon. In truth, what will probably happen is that I’ll buy a regular Blu-ray player once the prices have dropped some more and more titles are available, and then later on I’ll replace it with something that can both play and record—just like what happened with regular DVDs. If it actually happens. Which is still a big if.

Anyway, for now, my father-in-law has been reassured, and personally I’ll be curious to see what happens with Blu-ray in the next few months.

4 Responses to “The Death of HD DVD: Maybe the name itself had something do with it”

  1. AlanY says:

    You see the same kind of confusion if you browse some of the HD-DVD reviews on There are usually people complaining that “I have an HD TV and I bought this and it won’t play in my DVD player.”

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Right. Well, at least they are not trying to play their DVDs with a CD player! I guess the audio-to-video transition was a big enough leap that most people were able to figure out pretty easily. The transition from DVD to HD DVD is obviously not as straightforward.

  3. jking says:

    I suggested to my brother last year that te name “HD DVD” would be a detriment. It’s not catchy; it’s one hell of a mouthful; it’s not sufficiently distinct from the common name of the pre-existing technology. He, however, was not convinced, claiming that those two magic letters “H” and “D” would win the day.

    I guess I’ve won the argument in the end, though I confess I’m not too happy about it. I expected Blu-Ray to win out, but I was always of the opinion that HD DVD was the more attractive technology due to its relative simplicity. The whole business with multiple Blu-Ray player profiles, Java-based content protection that appears to require frequent firmware upgrades, region coding.. HD DVD just seemed like it was more friendly to market stability—and thereby to consumers.

    Oh, well. Now I guess we’re stuck. :(

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    My understanding was that HD DVD was going to get region coding sooner or later too, so I am not sure there would have been much difference in the longer run. Ultimately the hardware manufacturers always seem to bow down to the studios anyway, so people who want region-free stuff still have to turn to the grey market, as I did for my region-free DVD player.

    The flip side of requiring firmware updates is that firmware updates are possible. Yes, it can add to the complexity, but on the other hand I don’t want to be stuck with a defective product for years when all that it would need is a software update.

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