Jason Kottke interviews Steven Johnson about his suddenly obsolete HDDVD player.

I mean, the Betamax adopters at least had a few years to nag their VHS friends about the better picture quality, before the format died a slow death. But HD-DVD — they just took it out back and shot it!



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  1. statnut says:

    As someone who has both formats, I never thought HD-DVD provided a better picture quality, but thats just me.

  2. rmz says:

    Early adopters are typically doing one of two things: in the case of a failed product, they’re whining about it despite knowing the risks of early adoption. In the case of a successful product, they’re acting smug because they’re hardcore and have been using it for longer than you.

    I don’t particularly like either.

  3. ConnertheCat says:

    I look forward to $5 HD-DVD movies!

  4. WhatThe... says:

    I went blu-ray, and I’m still in shock that blu won so quickly and completely. I thought that HD DVD was on top with studios and cheap players. What the hell happened?

  5. matto says:

    I’m looking forward to HD DVDs that are a fifth of the price of Blu-ray discs! And my player was a third of the price too! Blu-ray sure kicked my ass!

  6. Adam Hyland says:

    @rmz: Jeez. I mean, I don’t really push to adopt too many early technology items (except a rev A macbook pro, oops), but I’m not really so damn hateful of those that do.

    Do I get some schadenfreude when I see apple drops the iphone price 200 bucks a month after release? Sure. Do I feel irked when someone bugs me about how prescient they feel after buying the blu-ray player 1 year ago? Sure.

    But I don’t get my panties in a twist about it. Steven Johnson is a pretty thoughtful guy and so is Jason Kottke. This is more of a story about how QUICKLY the format war ended (without historical precident) than it is about how bummed SBJ is.

  7. ganzhimself says:


    It always seemed that the movies I wanted were on HD-DVD and not Blu-Ray… I guess that the PS3 really helped Sony and the Blu-Ray camp build a large Blu-Ray consumer base early enough that HD-DVD had no chance of catching on.

  8. ShadowFalls says:

    The sad part is that HD-DVD movie prices probably won’t fall that much, you would be likely spending $15 still.

    Eventually they will hit rock bottem, but then again, even DVDs go on sale for $3.99 at times.

  9. Adam Hyland says:

    I would be interested to see a breakdown of what proportion of blu-ray players were installed on PS3’s.



  10. Adam Hyland says:

    My suspicion is that the sony/betamax fight showed the industry two things:


    1.  A format war will eventually have a winner and a loser (seems obvious).

    2.  A format war will serve to depress overall purchases–in other words, while customers have some uncertainty about which choice will prevail, they will deferr purchases

    This means that companies would not be willing to stand for prolonged format wars unless they had good reason to assume that they would prevail.  Because of the second point, their investment in the format is not costless–they receive a smaller revenue than would be accounted for by a simple split in the market.  Because of the first point, they know that they cannot project those earnings into the future perpetually.

    Consequently, companies have strong incentives to pull together coalitions of distributors to et an early edge.  Sony did a better job of that.


  11. Landru says:

    I heard Sony made large payments to Walmart and the other companies involved.

  12. Kilotonne says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool, if the discounted HD DVD discs and players become such a success, that the format returns from the dead full-force?

  13. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    ” But HD-DVD — they just took it out back and shot it!”  I don’t know why, but I think that is hilarious.

  14. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    @Landru:Is that wrong?

  15. Adam Hyland says:

    @Landru:  So?  They aren’t a public organization.  They are allowed to make whatever contracts they desire.  If they want to spend money to induce large suppliers to hp onboard, that is fine–it’s their money.

  16. Crymson_77 says:

    @notallcompaniesareevil: Right there with you…loved it!

  17. parad0x360 says:

    the studios could have prevented this by just all agreeing on one format or none at all…instead they chose to screw about a million consumers.

    i dont blame toshiba or sony, i blame the content providers for this crap.

  18. chrisfromnl says:

    At the very least, if you bought a hd-dvd player, you have an excellent dvd player.

  19. failurate says:

    This is Microsoft’s fault.  They could have included a free HD DVD player with the 360, like Sony did with the PS3… but nope, they wanted to squeeze an extra transaction out their customers.

    They got greedy and lost, hosing Toshiba in the process.

  20. jeandelli says:

    GO BLU RAY!!!! I wonder what I will have done with my ps3 if blu ray had lost. hehe

  21. CPC24 says:

    @failurate: The HD DVD format was not finished by the time the 360 launched, so they couldn’t add it. That’s the main reason the drive was external.

    I do agree that MS didn’t push HD DVD hard enough, and let Toshiba take all the blame when it collapsed.

  22. Canoehead says:

    Like Microsoft really cared – they will still get money from the VC-1 encoded Blu-Rays. Eventually they’ll make a Blu-Ray drive for the XBox 360, and the 720 will have it built in. And all the while they will be pushing their crappy low-bitrate download service. Microsoft isn’t really in the hardware game – see RRoD – but they’ll make out just fine on software. Really, Sony is unique in that they are huge in hardware AND all types of software (movies, games, music) – it makes for some weird internal dynamics, where the gaming folks had to get kneecapped for the good of the movie studio and the A/V consumer electronics arms. Blu-Ray was (at least short term) a huge drag on the gaming aspect of the PS3 – but it won the highdef movie war for them.

  23. uncjeffs says:


    Probably behind the chemical shed, should we march on Sony?

    “Are you like a crazy person?”-Evie
    “I’m quite sure they will say so”-V

  24. zibby says:

    @Kilotonne: It would be cool, but I’ll eat my shoe with a side of dog squeeze if that ever comes to pass.

  25. bdgbill says:

    I just bought an HD-DVD player last night.

    A friend reminded me that most HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players are also top notch upconverting players for standard DVD’s.

    I got a Toshiba HD-A3 for $99.00. The reviews on this unit say the upconverting makes standard dvd’s look great. I wonder if Blockbuster will be selling off their HD-DVD collection for next to nothing?

  26. cerbie says:

    @statnut: It doesn’t. Betamax looks much better than VHS, which is what he was talking about.

    I’m just now starting to get DVDs…BD has a long way to go before I touch it.

    @parad0x360: …and, the winning format isn’t designed to screw consumers?

  27. Jaysyn was banned for: https://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Variants of Betamax are still used for broadcast quality recording. It’s very popular at local-type newsstations.

  28. scoosdad says:

    @Jaysyn: The only heritage a professional Betacam machine shares with the older Betamax machine is the blank tape cassette design. Worlds of difference beyond that. There are even professional video decks (Panasonic M-format) designed around the VHS tape shell.

  29. backbroken says:

    The fact that HD-DVD lost the war is really making me want to go out an purchase an HD-DVD player. The players are going to drop in price. HD-DVD’s are going to drop in price. And even though they won’t be putting any more new releases on HD-DVD, I’ll still have a kick ass upscaling dvd player.

    I don’t get what all the whining is about and I’m having a really hard time feeling sorry for anyone who went out and bought one of these players when it was $600.

  30. Buran says:

    What, people are whining because the format war ended quickly? Before, they were whining because it was taking forever. You literally just can’t win.

  31. PirateWithParrot says:

    I of course went with Beta. Then in all my wisdom I bought hundreds of HD DVD’s because I think I know everything. Seems like everything I do is wrong and all the crap I buy is the wrong crap.

  32. starrion says:

    Early adopters are ruthlessly punished. But God bless them for plunking down hundreds of dollars more than those that come after them, putting up with the bugs, paying more for the accessories and media, and embracing the risk that the whole thing may fail. Without them, new products would be impossible.

  33. Sasquatch says:

    I knew the risks when I bought my HD-DVD drive and while I’m a
    little upset, I’m not an idiot. Still, I have a beautiful hi-def
    transfer of some of my favorite movies (including 2001, which looks
    absolutely stunning in hi-def), and while the format may be dead, my
    drive and discs all work just fine. Once my 360 red-rings on me, I’ll
    make the switch to a PS3 and finally free myself from owning any
    Micro$oft products.

  34. bobblack555 says:

    Only morons are early adapters.

    Besides, is it really worth the ridiculous price to be able to see all the moles on an actors nose?

    What a waste of money – its your own fault.

  35. KJones says:

    There are several huge differences between the HD/Blu DVD war and the Beta/VHS war.

    (1) There were three VCR tape formats, while only two DVD formats.

    (2) The multiple VCR formats were on the market for over a decade in total before VHS won out, offering time for consumers to make decisions and brand loyalties to develop.

    (3) Sufficient product and third party products (i.e. videotapes) were available to allow Betamax users to continue to benefit from their purchase and record TV shows. HD-DVD users are being screwed over by Toshiba since it’s a play-only format with no product.

    (4) The market decided the fate of Beta, not the companies. Sony, JVC and Philips all had models on the market and consumers eventually made the decision on which survived because of the features the manufacturers put into them. Toshiba simply gave up and didn’t want to fight in 2008 (though they certainly were uncooperative when the two companies were deciding on a common format).

    (5) The three VCR developers were competing head to head (no pun intended) with the intent of creating incompatible formats and outright winning of the market. Toshiba and Sony were originally collaborating but split over petty bickering because both wanted to dictate the market.

    The demise of HD-DVD is not one made by consumers but by the company. If this were a case of shrinking market share and Toshiba losing or starting to lose money, or the “writing on the wall” that Beta faced, then it would be one thing. But this is a case of Toshiba just giving up and screwing over the customers.

    This is not comparable to VCR at all. Tape buyers had a chance to protect themselves by buying extra product before it left the marketplace; HD-DVD buyers had no such warning, and are out hundreds of dollars.

    Toshiba should refund the consumers their money, but they won’t. If they have any decency (yeah, right), they will at least offer a buy-back or discount option for any customers on Toshiba Blu-Ray devices to be sold in the future.

  36. Kounji says:

    @KJones: “Toshiba should refund the consumers their money, but they won’t. If they have any decency (yeah, right), they will at least offer a buy-back or discount option for any customers on Toshiba Blu-Ray devices to be sold in the future.”

    I totally agree with what you said. You should honestly get like a 50 credit or something if you have a registered toshiba hd player, that’s just ridiculous. Cause a million or so is a lot of people who relied on their format. It would go a long way toward getting customers of their failed format, to buy into their production of the prevailing one

  37. ELC says:

    Hey Whatthe and others who wondered what happened (I was like you). I think this article will help out – lots going on behind the scenes in this format war:


  38. shades_of_blue says:

    Now that the war is over, the Bluray Association should offer a movie format exchange program for the screwed over HDDVD owners. The largest deciding factor in buying a HDDVD player was because of Paramount locking in their exclusive HDDVD deal with Toshiba. I wanted to watch Transformers in HD, so now I’m screwed because they took a huge payout? That’s bullsh*t.

    And they should reinstate the 5 free movie deal, the last one ran out. Not that they will, since they no longer have any competition.

  39. ShadowFalls says:


    Blockbuster was Blu-Ray only…

    It would be nice if they offered an exchange program for all those hosed in the process. But we all know it will not happen, they would rather just leech more money off of people rather than present goodwill to their customers.

    It is better this whole thing ended quickly though, at least people have a still usable product that can still at least play DVDs. The longer this whole thing would be drug out, the more of a mess it would have been when one or the other failed.

    I kind of feel like HD DVD was doomed from the beginning. Sony had their own movie studio, they already started a dictation on the formats before the whole battle began. Because of Sony, people ended up with Bluray players, because of Paramount others ended up with both.

    The longer this war would drag out, in the end, the biggest loser would have been the consumers. At least now, this is something consumers can deal with.

  40. timbrews says:

    I just bought myself an HD-A3 for $84.99 and have been combing the interwebs for discounted deals on HD-DVDs (DeepDiscount has kick everyone’s butts for the most part.)

    My TV is only 1080i, and I don’t plan on upgrading it anytime soon, so having a great up-converting DVD player (the A3 only goes up to 1080i) for the price of some non-name crap DVD “upconverter” worked for me.

    You can bet I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more deals on HD-DVDs in the coming weeks…

    BTW…the Toshiba 5 Free offer is valid until the 29th.