Toshiba Administers Mercy Killing to HD DVD

No one likely recorded the exact time of death, but on Feb. 19, Toshiba executives confirmed the passing of its beloved and expensively researched HD DVD standard, acknowledging it will no longer manufacture or market HD DVD products. It does vow to continue to provide support services for an undetermined period of time for those 1 million consumers who Toshiba said purchased HD DVD players and packed content in the past 18 months (and are now suddenly stuck with a future-less technology).

The triumph of Blu-ray as the lone next-gen standard for HD discs, among other things, puts to rest any notion that primary backer Sony was about to repeat some of its own dubious history. Its favored Betamax videotape standard lost out to VHS a quarter-century ago in a battle that Sony remembers well, and some observers of the just-concluded disc war often noted that Sony was not about to let that happen again.

Still, it did it the hard way by charging higher prices than its lone competitor because Blu-ray is more expensive to manufacture than HD DVD, although Sony also wisely made certain that every new owner of its popular PlayStation 3 game console automatically became a Blu-ray player owner, as well, thanks to internal disc drives.

Although the standards battle had its ups and downs since 2006, perhaps the handwriting was indelibly on the wall in early January when Warner Bros., a major Hollywood studio that had steadfastly supported both HD DVD and Blu-ray since their respective launches, surprisingly announced on the eve of CES that it was dropping HD DVD. In the past couple of weeks, such major retailers as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Netflix followed suit (see next story).

Toshiba President and CEO Atsutoshi Nishida said in a statement that his company “carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called ‘next-generation format war’ and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop. While we are disappointed for the company and more importantly, for the consumer, the real mass market opportunity for high definition content remains untapped, and Toshiba is both able and determined to use our talent, technology and intellectual property to make digital convergence a reality.”

Toshiba plans to help propel HD consumption, he said, with its research and production of high-capacity NAND flash memory devices, small-form factor hard disk drives, next-gen CPUs, and wireless and encryption technologies.

Toshiba estimates about 600,000 standalone HD DVD players have been sold in North America since 2006, as well as at least a few hundred thousand drives globally as add-ons to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game consoles.