I'm beginning to wonder if the next-generation high-definition DVD systems will be ready for us to purchase by the time the next next-generation video technology gets off the ground. If you're late to the long-running battle between Toshiba's HD-DVD and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Blu-Ray formats, you can catch up here. Basically, we've got two high-tech, high-capacity disc systems coming to consumers within the year. HD-DVD claims to be less expensive to produce, but Sony's costlier Blu-Ray systems will hold a lot more data.

Unfortunately, delays are pushing both systems' release dates back. Blu-Ray is scheduled for late summer, while HD-DVD was shoved back a month to April -- reportedly to align it with the schedule from content producers like Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), which will begin releasing HD-DVD versions of movies like The Last Samurai that month.

Keep in mind that HD-DVD was originally supposed to have launched already. And Sony's PlayStation 3, which will probably be the lowest-priced Blu-Ray player available for some time, had its launch date pushed back to November from an original target of this spring.

These setbacks, along with high price points, could mean problems for everyone involved. Hardware makers like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) have backed Blu-Ray, while Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is in the HD-DVD camp. That could cause conflicts, given Intel's newly acquired role as Apple's chief chip supplier. And there may be an even bigger stumbling block on the horizon.

Content producers may incorporate security features into their high-definition discs and players that will limit their video output to nothing more than old-school DVD resolution, unless the players are hooked up with a special HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable. If your HDTV doesn't have that connector -- and most HD sets sold over the past few years don't -- you won't get anything more from either the players or the discs, except a bigger balance on your credit card.

What will this mean for consumers and businesses? My guess: A mess. It was tough enough to back a horse in this race when both were galloping toward the finish line, but when both are stumbling, it's really difficult to know which pony to pick. A lot of content companies seem to be following Disney's (NYSE:DIS) lead by officially backing one format, yet leaving open the option to produce content for either. But if everyone is waiting to see which format gets the lead, neither will budge, at least at first. What if we end up with a chicken-egg staredown? Both consumers and shareholders will end up paying the price.

In terms of business sense, the only company that looks like it made the right decision in this entire mess is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) with the Xbox 360. By going with a regular DVD drive, it was not only ready to roll months ago, but it could also take advantage of the dirt-cheap DVD technology and avoid the entire format war. If HD-DVD comes out of the gate strong, Microsoft can always incorporate the better drive in a later generation of the box. Being behind the technology curve may, ironically, work to Mr. Softy's advantage this time around.

Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, or something else entirely? If you're interested in next-generation stuff, the Motley Fool Rule Breakers team is with you. For a peek at stocks and technologies that may take the world by storm, a free trial is a click away.

Seth Jayson is wondering if he should hold out for the HD-DVD Xbox 360. At the time of publication, he had shares of Microsoft, but no positions in any other firm mentioned. Time Warner is a Stock Advisor recommendation, while Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. You can view Seth's stock holdings and Fool profile here . Fool rules are here .