The brand new $113 Toshiba HD-DVD Player: Are the HD wars over?

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Analyst Opinion - Sure, Blu-ray had lots of good news this week. But the HD DVD camp has been answering the trend with prices that are putting HD DVD players close to what many of us would consider an affordable and, as a result, reasonable HD solution. So, what do you buy? Here is some food for thought from Rob Enderle.

Right now, on Amazon, at the time of this writing and for as long as they last, you can get the brand new Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player for $238 with a rebate coupon for 5 HD-DVD disks.  If those movies are priced at about $25 each, that’s a $125 rebate giving you a net price for the player of $113 (assumed that you are buying these movies, but you ‘d have to buy movies anyway).

Given HD-DVD players were over $500 just a few months ago, this is a deal and I bought one as soon as I had seen this - because, at this price, Toshiba has to be losing their shorts and likely won’t keep doing this indefinitely. Be aware, this player only goes to 1080i, but for this kind of money I really didn’t care (since from 10’ it’s almost impossible to tell the difference anyway).  

Is this the death blow to Blu-ray?  No. Sony has deep pockets too and they aren’t likely to give up without a fight (plus, they now have Target and BJ Wholesale backing their content in retail exclusively).  Of course, if Blu-ray offers a similar deal to Toshiba’s, I’m likely to buy a Blu-pay player as well, if I have a good HDMI switch.  

By the way, I found a good HDMI switch - the XtremeHD switch looks like a Mac Mini, costs about $100, has a remote and can switch 4 HDMI devices into your TV (granted you have to add that into your solution but even $350 isn’t that bad and you don’t need the switch if your TV or Receiver, like mine, has two HDMI ports).  


Battle update

Depending on who you ask, both Blu-ray or HD-DVD are winning, and both camps are constantly announcing that they are in the lead, but really, neither side has a decisive lead right now. Europe is investigating collusion   (basically anti-trust) complaints against Blu-ray and they could have an exposure. This kind of problem is huge for a Japanese company like Sony (or Toshiba), because of their culture and Sony being targeted this way does not bode well for Blu-ray.  

Sony is reporting a strong upswing is sales for PS-3 but these are the older 60 GB units Sony is discounting to purge inventory and this price and sale rate probably won’t last longer than the deal does (though many of us think Sony will have to do something permanent soon or give the game market back to Nintendo, which is on fire at the moment).  

Toshiba is clearly aggressively pricing their player, but is at a disadvantage with content. They only have Universal exclusively. At the very least, they need Disney, which is why the European Investigation will be so important to them as it could force Disney and others who currently don’t HD-DVD to support both platforms to support HD DVD.  None of these vendors wants the publicity that would go with a formal anti-trust charge.  


Calling the fight

HD-DVD still has the lead in player price, and sales growth and with the Amazon offer they clearly got me to pony up the cash.  On the other hand, Blu-ray has more of the content and typically, in the end, content wins because you people will follow the content.   Disney is the most powerful partner by far in this regard and they are on the Blu-ray side.   

In the end, I think this all hinges on the EU investigation, with a secondary possibility that if Toshiba can blow out HD-DVD sales, the studios on the Blu-ray side will exclusively follow the revenue and support both formats.  I don’t see either side backing off anytime soon, so our only hope is either something else shows up or the players get so cheap that we can afford two and then I’m not sure it even matters anymore but if we all could support both then the cheapest format would likely win and even that is in question. This is because the people how make and sell movies will choose the format that is the most economical for them but one side, or the other, has to be clearly cheaper doing both is simply too costly if they don’t have to.  

So, the likelihood that neither wins decisively is still vastly greater than either one and it seems likely that if you buy one or the other you’ll still be able to get content for it for the next year or so at least (and by then you’ll want something new anyway).   

At least one of my favorite movies, 300, is coming out on both formats so you should be set either way.   My advice, figure out a price where one or the other makes sense like I just did, and then buy, when the other gets cheap enough, if the battle isn’t over, buy it too.  You aren’t out that much really then, however as this turns out, you’re covered.   For follow my original advice and get a good DVD player with a scalar like the Oppo (they just released a nice new model for $170).   It is a summer of movies though, and if you have a HD TV it is way past time to get something to put on it.