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Switched On: Universal soldier


Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

"Waswitchedon Post. Burnstein speaking."

"I think your coverage of the next-generation DVD format wars could benefit from a more 'universal' perspective, Karl."


"It's me, Disc Bloat."

"Oh no, not you again! Been a while, Mr. Bloat, if that is your real name. Just fly back in your UFO after visiting Bat Boy in Loch Ness?"

"Come on, Karl. Everyone knows that Bat Boy is now dwelling in the New York subway system."

"All right, fill me in on what's going around the asylum these days."

"Have you ever wondered, Karl, why Universal Studios is supporting only HD DVD?"

"Perhaps they are interested in the lower production costs, interactive capabilities, or mandatory broadband connectivity. Or they may favor the "combo disc" capability that enables standard-def and high-def movie versions on one disc, Such discs will account for 90 percent of their 2007 HD DVD titles that include such films as Meet the Fockers, The Bourne Identity, American Pie, Liar Liar and dozens of others. But other than those reasons, no, I haven't thought much about it. In any case, Universal recently announced that they'd be developing 100 HD DVD titles in 2007, so they seem like a pretty strong backer."

"Oh sure, they walk the walk, Karl, just like Neil Armstrong did in front of the fake moon scenery. From where I sit, though, Universal is poised to hop on to the Blu-ray bandwagon."

"Ah ha, and where are you sitting?"

"The grassy knoll."

"I mean, why do you say that?"

"Let me spell it out for you, Burnstein. Universal gets to enjoy some sweet market share without Sony and Disney playing in their high-definition home video pool... at least for a while. But over time it's going to become increasingly difficult to ignore all those PlayStation 3s stacking the deck for Blu-ray. Sure, the attach rates on the game consoles for movies may be lower than those for the dedicated players, but it's still going to move a lot of titles. Universal is the weakest link among the HD DVD backers. Unlike Toshiba, it has no hardware R&D investment to lose. And unlike Microsoft, it has no axe to grind with Sony or Java."

"So, you're saying that as soon as Universal has milked HD DVD hard enough to attract a PETA protest, they'll abandon their customers and flip to the Blu-ray side?"

"Like a TotalHD disc."

"Bloat, you can't just go around accusing content companies of consumer-hostile behavior. I know one guy who did that and they sued him, three generations of his dead ancestors, his five year-old daughter and her future kids. Universal is the only major studio exclusively supporting HD DVD. If your theory comes true, the format could be as dead as Elvis."

"We really need to have a long talk."

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at

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