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Sony feels the pressure, and it makes me happy

Customers aren’t the only ones frustrated with the high-definition format wars—Sony CEO Howard Stringer is reaching the end of his rope as well. Blu-ray, which is backed by Sony, was doing well up until recently and winning the war based on merits, Stringer said at an event in New York. That is, up until movie studio Paramount decided to “change sides” and go exclusively HD DVD in August. Things have apparently become more difficult since then, and the high-profile CEO is showing signs of wear.

“It’s a difficult fight,” Stringer was quoted saying by the Associated Press, going so far as to describe the situation as a “stalemate.” He candidly indicated that the war mostly came down to bragging rights over who was winning, and said that the two camps could have collaborated better in the past to develop one format. Stringer even said that he wished he could go back in time to make that possible—is that the smell of regret floating in the air?

Indeed, without some sort of compromise, it doesn’t appear as if the battle will be over any time soon. The two sides have been going back and forth in the media as to who has been “winning” at any given time, with Sony taking a lead in overall player sales, but HD DVD winning out when it comes to standalone players (most of Blu-ray’s players come as part of the PS3 console). The rest of the market has been forced to take sides in many cases too, with Blockbuster and Target giving points to the Blu-ray camp while HD DVD remains more popular among European movie studios. The stream of news about little victories between the two is nearly endless—and “little” they are, as the market is still so small that just the changing of the wind can tip the scales in either direction.

Market research firm Forrester Research recently revised its stance on the Blu-ray versus HD DVD deadlock, saying that it was sure to continue well into 2009, if not longer. As a consumer, that news is just plain dreadful, and for a manufacturer with hands in the game, probably even worse. A large majority of consumers are still hesitant to buy players for either format. And with customers not spending money, neither camp will come out on top. Stringer appears to have finally come to that realization—will Toshiba hear his cries and come a-knockin’? We’d love to be wrong on this one, but we just don’t see it happening now. It’s just too late.


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