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Wednesday, August 08, 2007
DVD format war gets steamy

Just when it looked like Blu-ray was winning the next-generation DVD format war, an often overlooked yet powerful force -- porn -- has emerged to potentially swing the tide back toward rivalHDDVD.

Blu-ray has unquestionably been winning the battle of perception. Walk into a Best Buy store and the first thing you're likely to see is a wall of Blu-ray movies. HD DVDs, meanwhile, might be hidden around the corner and are greatly outnumbered by Blu-ray titles.

Then there's the endorsements. Blockbuster Video, the world's biggest rental chain, in June dealt HD DVD a body blow by saying it was expanding its high-definition offerings to 1,700 stores -- but they would be Blu-Ray only. The chain said it was bowing to customer preference -- 70% of next-generation format rentals in test stores were Blu-Ray, while only 30% were HDDVD.

Meanwhile, Target Corp., the second-largest department store chain in the United States, last week said it would feature Bluray players and discs starting this holiday season.

Both moves add considerable momentum to the Sony Corp.-backed Blu-ray format and seemingly take the legs out from under the rival format supported by Toshiba Corp.

But not so fast. Let's not forget about the porn industry. Some estimates say the number of "adult" home videos produced outnumber regular movies by two to one. Sony has thus far resisted allowing the porn industry to press adult films on to its Blu-ray format -- presumably on moral grounds -- so the U.S. porn industry has chosen HD DVD as a result. That could be a huge mistake for Sony.

The next-generation DVD war has often been likened to the battle in the early 1980s between VHS and the Sony-backed Betamax videotape formats, a fight the Japanese company decisively lost. Many analysts have suggested the porn industry, which often leads the way in adopting new technologies, was instrumental in the VHS victory. While Betamax was considered the superior of the two technologies, the adult film industry chose VHS because it was cheaper and better supported by manufacturers.

With Blu-ray discs and players more expensive to produce and Sony's resistance to being involved with the adult film industry, history could be repeating itself.

The company seems to be realizing this and is reportedly softening its anti-porn stance. Film producers at the Adult Treasure Expo 2007 in Japan this week said Sony has started to offer more technical support to the industry. And, while they can't yet produce discs in Japan, they can have them pressed in nearby Taiwan by Sony-supported manufacturers.

Nevertheless, with the U.S. porn industry having already developed a taste for HD DVD, it could be too late for Sony. Bluray's victory in the war of perception may mean nothing.

The irony of all this, however, is that the porn stars themselves aren't necessarily in favour of going high-definition. Whether its HD DVD or Blu-ray, high-definition highlights imperfections in the actors, from wrinkles to cellulite.

"The biggest problem is razor burn," actress and director Stormy Daniels told The New York Times earlier this year. "I'm not 100% sure why anyone would want to see their porn in HD."

From Financial Post - network

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