Toshiba president on HD DVD: "I didn't think we stood a chance after Warner left us"

The high-definition format war was one that burned hot, but faded out fast. Although some were expecting HD DVD to continue to fight the good fight for a while longer, Toshiba threw in the towel on February 19 when it announced that it would discontinue manufacture of its HD DVD players.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, president and CEO of Toshiba Corporation Atsutoshi Nishida shared several of his thoughts during the final weeks of the HD DVD.

When asked when he first started considering Toshiba’s withdrawal from the format war, Nishida pointed to Warner Bros.’ announcement of Blu-ray Disc allegiance just before CES as the crucial point.

“We took a little time before reaching a final decision, so we could give people a chance to voice their opinions and we could consider all the ramifications and consequences of pulling out, such as how it would affect consumers and us,” said Nishida. “I didn't think we stood a chance after Warner left us because it meant HD DVD would have just 20% to 30% of software market share.”

While some may view the fall of HD DVD as a black eye on Toshiba, Nishida takes a more logical stance on the matter. “One has to take calculated risks in business, but it's also important to switch gears immediately if you think your decision was wrong. We were doing this to win, and if we weren't going to win then we had to pull out, especially since consumers were already asking for a single standard,” he said.

With HD DVD hardware production officially ceased at Toshiba, the Japanese electronics company has one less growth product in its roster. But Nishida isn’t worried, he said, “It was just one avenue of growth. It was one of 45 strategic business units that we have. This just means we now have 44.”

Although the battle for high-definition supremacy was highly publicized, the mainstream consumer still spends the majority of his or her entertainment dollar on regular DVDs.

“What people don't realize is that Hollywood studios are going to release new titles not just for Blu-ray but for standard DVDs as well, and there are a far greater number of current-generation DVD players out there,” Nishida said.

During the one of the final advertising pushes for HD DVD in North America, Toshiba advertised that its HD DVD players also function as upconversion hardware to scale regular 480p DVDs up to 1080i/p – a point that Nishida clings on to. Toshiba has expressed no plans to make any Blu-ray Disc hardware.

“If you watch standard DVDs on our players, the images are of very high quality because they include an "upconverting" feature. And we're going to improve this even more, so that consumers won't be able to tell the difference from HD DVD images,” the Toshiba leader said. “The players would be much cheaper than Blu-ray players too. Next-generation DVD players are in a much weaker position than when standard DVD players were first introduced.”

To be sure, upscaling does improve the presentation of standard DVD, especially on a high-end player such as the Toshiba HD-XA2 with its REON chip; but a 1080p-encoded HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc offers six times the resolution of a DVD – something that is clearly noticeable on larger displays.

In the heat of the battle, industry figures such as Hollywood director Michael Bay and 20th Century Fox president Mike Dunn theorized that Microsoft was looking past HD DVD and towards digital downloads. When asked if Toshiba would put its efforts behind video downloads, Nishida responded, “That's what we're hoping. We've been developing technologies in this area already, but now that we don't have the HD DVD business, I want to put even more energy into that.”

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