The format war over high-definition movie discs ended Tuesday when Toshiba announced that it was abandoning HD DVD, the technology it championed virtually by itself in the consumer electronics industry. The move left Blu-ray as the only viable choice for high-definition discs, averting the kind of lingering battle that divided the videocassette market for more than a decade.
Oddly enough, movie fans played little part in declaring Blu-ray the winner. Most Hollywood studios backed one format or the other, not both, preventing people from comparing the formats side by side. And consumers were slow to buy stand-alone Blu-ray or HD DVD players, in part because conventional DVDs produce more than adequate pictures on small to midsized digital sets. The total number of stand-alone players sold was less than 1 million by December, by one studio's estimate, and the sales were divided roughly evenly between the two camps.
As the sales data suggested, the formats differed little in terms of picture and sound quality. The main distinctions from the consumer's perspective, at least in the short term, were that Blu-ray discs had more capacity and that HD DVD players were significantly cheaper. To studios, Blu-ray offered one other bonus: additional protections against unauthorized copying. But HD DVD discs cost less to produce, which meant higher profit margins.