Who Won The 300 HD War?

As revealed yesterday, last week’s release of “300” sold around 250,000 copies of the film in both the competing Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats in its first week. The question many on both sides of this silly war are asking is – how many of each?

The answer, according to USA Today, is Blu-Ray 65% to HD-DVD 35%. This mirrors the sales pattern of the format this year so far which has been about 2 Blu-Ray discs sold for every 1 HD-DVD.

Yet the fight isn’t that simple. On the one hand (thanks to the PS3) there are 5-6 times as many BR players in homes as there are HDs, yet the sales margin has yet to come close to this (when it gets to at least 4:1, that’s when you can really declare a winner). Also the BR version was $5 cheaper and had an uncompressed PCM soundtrack.

On the other hand the HD version contained both a regular DVD print for those on the fence, not to mention numerous exclusive extras (plus the red casing is much cooler for a film like this). Whilst it seems inevitable that BR will win, what should’ve been an easy victory for Sony has been as drawn out and far from complete as many had expected.

Now for a personal take – other major sites have weighed in with their allegiances so time for me to announce mine. Having played dozens of films on both formats on my home setup, they’re both equal I find despite all the propoganda from both sides. Also, unless you have a big plasma or LCD TV (another debate but I’m firmly in the plasma court on that one- better blacks, colors and movement), there isn’t enough of a difference from regular to be worried about it for the prices they are at now.

Despite the fact Sony flouts itself as the superior technology, the HD discs were far better out of the gate and left Sony in the dust. Out of all this competition though, the good news is its forced Sony to up its game and as a result both formats have been pretty much equal in recent months. The BR tech also admittedly has more potential so as that develops it will be interesting to see how they improve it.

HD still tends to have the better picture thanks to mandatory VC-1 & MPEG-4 codec use, but often both technologies now use the same exact transfer & codec so look precisely the same. As long as Sony ditches the crappy MPEG-2 codec completely, then this is one battle that’s a complete draw.

Things remain a toss up on sound. BR’s uncompressed PCM tracks are always the best by far, but a lot of titles for some reason have only regular Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on Blu-ray (whereas HD has DD5.1+ and True HD tracks). This you really have to look for and decide on a disc by disc basis. As for extras, BR’s video is in high def but HD has the far better interface so it’s hard to say.

Ultimately the best solution right now for one keen to get into the format fight is to do both. Are you worried about one becoming obsolete? Well if say BR wins and HD loses, all the HD players aren’t suddenly going to explode overnight. On top of that, what’s to stop one copying one’s HD discs directly onto blank Blu-rays or a hard disk in the future?

At present having the competition ensures that both are trying to outdo each other, and in doing so means better choice for the consumer. It’s highly doubtful either format will be anything more than what they are – luxury items for the film enthusiasts. For the next few years, at least until an iTunes like facility allowing you to download 1080p movies onto a hard drive in under 30 seconds emerges, we’re likely to be looking at things being like they were in the early 90’s with one major format for consumers (videos back then, regular DVDs now) and a more expensive luxury format for cinephiles (laserdiscs back then, high def discs now).