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SHOW'S OVER FOR HD DVD

With Toshiba bowing to Sony's Blu-ray, format issues give way to price questions.

The HD DVD is now the Highly Dead DVD.

Toshiba Corp., creator of the HD DVD, dropped out of the battle Tuesday over the next generation of movie-disc technology and conceded to Sony's rival Blu-ray format.

It was the biggest battle between two video formats since Betamax lost out to VHS in the 1980s.

In the long run, the end of the latest format war is expected to be good for consumers, who will no longer have to agonize over which technology to choose for high-definition movies and who won't have to go to the trouble and expense of buying two players.

But in the short term, Toshiba's defeat not only leaves 1-million HD DVD customers worldwide with dead-end hardware, but it also ends a rivalry that kept down prices for players and pushed the Blu-ray group to match the features available on HD DVD players.

Analysts say people interested in getting a Blu-ray player would do well to wait. For one thing, it will take 12 to 18 months for Blu-ray players to become as cheap and full-featured as HD DVD players, which have been selling for just over $100, according to ABI Research.

Many people who did buy HD DVD players did so recently. In fact, Toshiba said the holiday season was its best ever. Stephen Brown, a Huntington Beach, Calif., technology manager who bought an HD DVD player in November, doesn't regret it, even though his wife now calls him "Betamax Brown."

"Just the fact that I could go out and spend $119 or $120 and have a really nice player, that was a no-brainer at that point," he said Tuesday.

Brown said he will probably look at getting a Blu-ray player in a year or so, when the price comes down to about $150 from about $400 now and various features become standard.

Both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs deliver crisp, clear pictures and sound, a perfect match for the high-definition TV sets Americans have been rushing to buy for the past two years.

But HD DVD players are also able to connect to the Internet to download trailers and other bonus content for discs and can have a director or actor provide commentary in a small window while the movie plays.

Blu-ray players capable of showing picture-in-picture - a feature called "Bonus View" - have only just started to appear.

So-called BD-Live players, which can take advantage of Internet content, are expected on the market this spring.

The fact that the PlayStation 3 console included a Blu-ray drive is one reason the format eventually won out. Sony Corp. sold 10.5-million PS3 machines since their 2006 debut.

But the real death knell for HD DVD was the last month's decision by Warner Bros. Entertainment to drop the format and release only Blu-ray discs and DVDs.

"That had tremendous impact," Toshiba president Atsutoshi Nishida said Tuesday. Warner joined Sony Pictures, the Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox in shunning the HD DVD.

Even with the HD DVD out of its way, Blu-ray isn't likely to be the success that the DVD was, given the many viewing options consumers have.

The big advantage of the DVD over broadcast and cable has been that the viewer can choose when to watch what. But that advantage has been eroded by video-on-demand from cable companies, many of which are now in high definition.

FAST FACTS

Universal change

Universal Studios, one of the two major studios that were putting out HD DVDs, will focus its attention on the rival Blu-ray disc format, following the announcement Tuesday by Toshiba, creator of the HD DVD, that it would stop making players for the discs. Universal Studios and Paramount were the two major Hollywood studios that supported HD DVD. Universal did not say how long it would keep putting out HD DVDs or what it would do with its inventory.

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