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Winning and losing the "format war"

News reports in the last couple of days seem to suggest that Sony’s Blu-ray format has won, or will likely win, the “format war” to control next generation video content. After spending a pointless couple of years fighting Toshiba and HD DVD, it appears that Blu-ray probably has won, with their 70 percent share of Hollywood studio output, and large penetration mainly from PlayStation 3 consoles.

But in the long run, I suspect they’re both losers. The linked Valleywag article got me thinking about this one again, but I would rather see online video become the ultimate future format, as has been the case with music and MP3s. This mostly relies on sufficiently fast broadband of course (which will happen for enough of us over time), but if online distribution becomes the way, then physical format is irrelevant.

With the reality that most people will be happy to stick with regular DVDs for the forseeable future, online distribution still has plenty of time to establish its superiority over any new physical format anyway. And I do really despise the attitude of the studios, who see a new physical format as just a way to boost sales by convincing people that everything they own has to be bought again in the new format.

So Sony may have won for now, but I don’t think any new format is a winner in the long term. Of course, they’re busy developing download stores for the PS3 (as Microsoft is also doing for the Xbox 360 and plenty of other players the same), so I think the big companies see this as well and are hedging their bets.

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