LOS ANGELES -- The high-definition DVD war may be over.
Hollywood's squabble over which of two technologies will replace standard DVDs tilted in the direction of Sony Corp. on Friday, with Warner Bros. casting the deciding vote in favor of Sony's Blu-ray discs over the rival format, HD-DVD.
In a replay of the VHS versus Betamax battle of the 1980s, the pendulum just swung firmly into Blu-ray's corner. Warner Bros., owned by Time Warner Inc., said it will release movie discs only in the Blu-ray format. It was the only remaining studio releasing high-definition DVDs in both formats.
It is the fifth studio to back Blu-ray; the others are: The Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Only two support the HD DVD format, developed by Toshiba Corp. Viacom's Paramount Pictures, which also owns DreamWorks SKG, dropped its support for Blu-ray and said it would start distributing films exclusively in the HD DVD format. Universal Pictures also releases films only in HD DVD.
Both formats deliver crisp, clear high-definition pictures and sound. But they are incompatible with each other, and neither plays on older DVD players, which means consumers seeking top-quality playback face a dilemma.
Warner said it decided to go with Blu-ray because consumers have shown a stronger preference for that format than HD DVD.
"The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger," Warner Bros. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Barry Meyer said in a statement.
"We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers and, most importantly, consumers," he said.
The company said U.S. sales of Blu-ray discs generated $169 million last year, while sales of discs in the HD DVD format were $103 million.
About 60 percent of Warner's sales of U.S. high-definition discs were Blu-ray titles and the other 40 percent were HD DVD, said Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. Outside the United States, the divide was far wider, with Warner's Blu-ray discs outselling titles in HD DVD in Britain and Japan, among other markets, Tsujihara said.
Sales of set-top high-definition disc players in the fourth quarter of 2007 also factored into Warner's decision. The com- pany saw an acceleration in sales of Blu-ray players at the end of the quarter, particularly in December, Tsujihara said.
"We always viewed set-tops as the most significant indicator" of consumers' format preference, he said.
Still, one alarming trend Warner keyed on was that consumers didn't appear motivated by price reductions on high-definition disc players.
"When we saw that was not impacting sales in the level that it should have, and the consumer research that we did indicated that the consumers were holding back from buying either one of the two formats ... we thought it was the right time to act," Tsujihara said, noting that even sales of standard DVDs were affected because consumers appeared unsure over which format to go with.
There are some differences between the formats. Blu-ray discs can hold more data -- 50 gigabytes compared with HD DVD's 30 GB -- but the technology's new manufacturing techniques boosted initial costs.
HD DVDs, on the other hand, are essentially DVDs on steroids, meaning movie studios can turn to existing assembly lines to produce them in mass.
Warner Home Video will continue to release new titles in HD DVD until the end of May.
Blu-ray got a big boost in June when Blockbuster Inc. announced it would stock only Blu-ray titles as it expands its high-definition offerings.
Target Inc., the nation's second-largest retailer, decided in July to sell only Blu-ray DVD players.