More Delay for Blu-ray

If you've been keeping up with the upcoming format spat for high-definition video, you know that the battlefield has been split between two competing technologies: Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Blu-ray is the 50-gigabyte baby of giants Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . HD-DVD is the 30-gig dream led by Toshiba.

I've been pulling for Blu-ray because, quite simply, it holds more data. But the more I watch Sony preside over a Keystone Kops non-launch, the more I wonder whether we ought to hope someone euthanizes it before we all have to cry for Betamax 2.

Simply put, Blu-ray is starting to look hopelessly behind. The first Blu-ray player expected to make a real splash was to be the upcoming gaming console from Sony, the PlayStation 3. But as we've seen, problems with chip yields have pushed that release date into November.

But Sony's gaming system isn't the only Blu-ray tech being pushed back. Last week, Pioneer announced that development delays would push its Blu-ray player from spring to fall. Moreover, the gadget-watchers at Gizmodo noticed that the Sony website offered a late-August launch date for its own Blu-ray device -- a good three months past the originally expected date. And if we believe the good folks at Pocket Lint, Samsung's Blu-ray player is also being moved back to September.

Let the conspiracy theories begin! What's the deal here? Are there problems with the underlying technology? Is Sony trying to sandbag the player market to give the PS3 a shorter lag time to market? I'm not sure, and Sony seems mum on the subject, but it sounds to me as though Sony's got some issues to deal with.

But I also wouldn't be quick to jump on the HD-DVD bandwagon, either as a consumer or an investor. If this review of the first-to-market player is anything to go on, there are plenty of bugs left to work out in these first-generation machines.

Frankly, I'm at a loss as to who stands to gain from the format spat, not to mention technology that seems to be landing with a splat. For my money, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) seems to have played things the smartest by refusing to incorporate either technology in its initial launch of the Xbox 360. As HD-DVD drives have begun to appear in laptop computers, there's speculation that Microsoft's first HD-DVD for the Xbox 360 will appear shortly -- likely as a peripheral add-on. That's a decent opportunity, because if Microsoft can deliver an HD movie-playing experience that works as well as the rest of the Xbox user interface, it might find itself a junior contender in the hardware race.

Who stands to lose? I can think of plenty of folks besides the obvious equipment makers like Sony. Content providers such as Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) will, for a time, have twice the logistical headaches. They've been lining up behind one leader or the other, but most have hedged their bets because, obviously, they're going to want the freedom to work with whichever standard wins out. And rental outfits such as Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) and Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI  ) will also have double the trouble, not to mention the risk of a lot of obsolete inventory.

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Seth Jayson thinks technology is confusing enough without more promising-yet-crummy DVD standards. At the time of publication, he had shares of Microsoft but no positions in any other company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here.Fool rules are here.


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