Warner Announces “Total Hi Def” A Hybrid HD-DVD/Blue-ray Disk

Warner Home Video made a surprising announcement at CES. Starting in the 3rd quarter of  2007 it will exclusively release its HD titles on a hybrid, multi-layer, HD-DVD and  Blu-ray disk dubbed "Total Hi Def". HD-DVD formatted content will be on one side and Blu-ray formatted content will be on the other. Regardless of the HD player a consumer purchases, these disks would be playable.

In an effort to put the format wars behind (and increase sales), Warner has committed to licensing the Total Hi Def technology to any other TV/movie studio for free. Not surprisingly, fellow Time Warner properties, New Line Studios and HBO, have said they will also use the Total Hi Def format. Major retailers including Best Buy, Circuit City, and Amazon.com have announced they will support this format and make Total Hi Def DVDs available through these retail channels.  No word yet from Walmart.

Dale's Comment: This is an interesting development in the high-def wars (which I personally believe HD-DVD is winning). Consumers don't want to be left in a loosing Betamax-like camp. Universal exclusively supports the HD-DVD standard. Fox, Disney and Sony, of course, exclusively support Blu-ray. Other studios support both. If Warner is licensing this this technology for free, it is possible that these studios, with the exception of Sony, could eventually support this hybrid disk approach. That said, the per-unit manufacturing costs will be higher than producing disks with one format or the other because the process requires the purchase of dual manufacturing equipment to support both formats. 

With an alternative approach to solving the same problem, LG also used CES 2007 to announce an expensive ($1,200ish U.S.) hybrid player that could play disks of either format. Under the LG hybrid-drive formulation, something both Sony (Blue-ray) and Toshiba (HD-DVD) strenuously oppose (and until now had precluded through licensing restrictions), we would be headed down a similar road as the CDR+/CDR- and DVDR+ and DVDR- standards where no format won and eventually all players could support all formats.  But its difficult to envision consumers, that are unwilling to pay $200 for an Xbox 360 HD-DVD sidecar or $600 for a PS3 with its internal Blu-ray player, wanting to spend $1,200 on a hybrid player. It would be cheaper to purchase an Xbox 360, its sidecar DVD player and a PS3 than to purchase the LG hybrid player at this price.

Previously the HD-DVD camp had announced its HD-DVD/DVD hybrid disk technology as a key advantage over Blu-ray. Purchasers of those disks could play the movie on either current gen DVD players OR HD-DVD players. I had also seen this as a format Blockbuster and Netflix would glom onto because one disk could serve its rental needs for customers of both existing DVD and HD-DVD formats. One SKU per movie cuts the needed display/warehousing space in half.

Importantly, the porn industry announced at CES 2007 that it will standardize on HD-DVD. Don't laugh at this! 🙂 The porn industry has been a huge factor in the advancement of interactive media technologies over the last decade and could play an important part in determining what HD format wins. It embraced VHS over Betamax in the early years. We all know the outcome there.

My sense is that while one format or the other may win, or one of these hybrid approaches might solve the problem, in the longer run, none of this matters too much. I believe, as does Microsoft, that the world is headed for a paradigm shift where HD downloads, such as those done through the XBox 360 right now, will become more important than any physical disk-based HD distribution approach.

Sources: Engadget | Engadget CES Coverage | LinuxInsider | Pocket-lint | Newsday | PC World | Fox News | CNet | PC Magazine (Reuters) | ZDNet | PC World | MovieWeb | Economist | Playfuls

Discussed at the 32:03 Minute Mark of this Engadget Podcast 98 (after iPhone segment).