John Paczkowski

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Mistah HD DVD–He Dead …

fail.jpgReports of HD DVD’s death may have been exaggerated, but reports of its fast-declining health have not.

Though Paramount Pictures has denied reports that it plans to abandon the next-generation DVD format, news of an escape clause in its HD DVD contract allowing it to release films on Blu-ray has the industry wondering aloud about the format’s continued viability.

And for good reason. Earlier this week Universal’s HD DVD-exclusive contract ended. And last Friday, on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show, Warner Bros. stunned the industry by announcing plans to end support of the format entirely in June. “[That] maybe the pivotal event that resolves the format war,” said Thomas Coughlin of Coughlin Associates. “It certainly changes the rules and the playing field. I think everyone is trying to reassess what this means–including the HD DVD guys. [If Blu-ray does come out on top] it would be poetic justice after the Betamax vs. VHS war. That time, Sony lost.”

But is it truly the format’s death knell? Ovum analyst Carl Gressum says no. “There is a lot of speculation whether this is the end of HD DVD,” he said. “It is not, but we are getting dangerously close to a ‘chapter 11’ for the group. If the other supporting studios now decide to drop HD DVD, the situation will turn dire, and HD DVD could become more of a replacement to DVD on the PC client than as a movie-distribution playback format.”

UPDATE: Universal Pictures flatly denies it’s abandoning the HD DVD format. Said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president of HD strategic marketing for Universal Studios Home Entertainment, “Contrary to unsubstantiated rumors from unnamed sources, Universal’s current plan is to continue to support the HD DVD format.”