Warner Bros switches sides from HD DVD to Blu-Ray

On the eve of this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Warner Brothers has decided to withdraw its backing for HD DVD and has agreed to release content exclusively on the competing Blu-Ray high-definition format

Most industry commentators agree this is a big setback for the HD DVD standard. As a consequence, the HD DVD consortium cancelled plans to hold its own press conference at the Las Vegas trade show on Sunday.

The role of defending HD DVD was left to Toshiba which claimed that the high-definition video format is not dead. Akiyo Ozaka, president of Toshiba America Consumer Products, claimed that HD DVD "has not lost", but he declined to comment on Toshiba's next steps.

Toshiba's remarks were the latest salvo in a long-running battle over which format will dominate the next generation of technology for delivering high-definition movies to consumers.

The winner is expected to inherit a multibillion-dollar industry, although consumers so far have been confused by the standards war. Some analysts say they have also failed to see the attraction of high-definition.

"We were very disappointed with Warner Brothers' announcement," Ozaka said. "Sales of HD DVD were very good last year, especially in October to December."

That was in contrast to the mood among Blu-ray technology promoters, who held their own reception at CES and congratulated themselves on the Warner decision.

The rivalry has been compared to the video-cassette-recorder format war of the late 1970s and early 1980s which ultimately Sony's Betamax lost and JVC's VHS won.

"To have one of the studios in its fold defect to the Blu-ray camp is a difficult challenge to overcome," said Ross Rubin, director of consumer technology analysis at NPD Group, adding that "studio support is really critical to the format".

Ozaka said North American sales of HD DVD players, including movie drives in Microsoft's Xbox 360, totalled one million in the last year, helped by downloads of high-definition video onto personal computers equipped with the technology.

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