Battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD fizzles as consumers watch and wait

There's a format war going on, in case you've not turned on the TV, surfed the Internet, or stepped into a consumer electronics retailer for the past year and a half. But some news that has emerged from a couple of trade shows this week shows that the "war" is more like a slap-fight between a couple of preadolescent girls: it holds great significance to the parties involved and may be slightly entertaining to watch, but it does very little lasting damage. HangZhou Night Net

Over the last couple of days, the North American HD DVD Promotional Group has sent out press releases trumpeting the format's momentum. HD DVD is going to start advertising on NBC's Sunday Night Football and will soon have 125 new HD DVD titles available. The trade group has also convinced PC manufacturer Acer to join and is highlighting a new Acer laptop (the Aspire 5920) with an HD DVD drive at this week's CEDIA EXPO 2007.

At the same expo, both Sony and Toshiba gave presentations on the strengths of their preferred formats. Sony played up Blu-ray's two-to-one sales lead over HD DVD when it comes to discs sold so far. Sony also says Blu-ray has 55 percent of the next-gen HD player market, compared to 43 percent for HD DVD and 2 percent for hybrid players. But if you take a closer look at the images snapped of Sony's charts by AnandTech, you can see a rather disturbing trend for both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

From their peaks at the end of 2006, both formats have seen a rather precipitous sales decline. According to Sony, Blu-ray sold nearly 70,000 discs per week during the last weeks of 2006. But by mid-May, the last week for which Sony provided data, that had slipped to less than 35,000 per week. HD DVD saw a similar decline, but not as steep, going from around 43,000 discs to a bit more than 20,000. At one point towards the end of April, sales of Blu-ray and HD DVD discs were in a virtual dead heat.

Toshiba blew HD DVD's horn as well. The HD DVD backer pointed out that the format has a 62.7 percent market share… for PC drives. Toshiba also pointed to some market research it conducted that showed consumers were more than twice as likely to buy an HD DVD player than they were a Blu-ray player. One problem: a majority were undecided.

Data source: Toshiba

Across the Atlantic, a panel at the International Broadcast Conference in the Netherlands discussed the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray. One panelist says that both formats could be in trouble if a clear winner doesn't emerge soon. "The longer the confusion exists for mass market consumers, they will want one format," said Jim Bottoms, cofounder of Understanding & Solutions, according to EETimes. "If the market does not have a one-format solution within 18 months, the consumer will start to turn away."

Other panelists weren't as pessimistic as Bottoms. One estimated that the format war will still be going strong in 2011, when the US will see a 60/40 split between Blu-ray and HD DVD, but with only 40 percent of US households owning an HD disc player of any sort.

Both parties are doing whatever they can to convince consumers to vote with their wallets. Blu-ray scored a couple of victories via agreements with Target and Blockbuster, while HD DVD scored a major coup by convincing Paramount to drop Blu-ray and embrace HD DVD. There has been some serious price-cutting, too, with the first sub-$200 (but 1080i-only) HD DVD soon to launch.

Despite their best efforts, there is still a lot of uncertainty on the part of consumers, and right now, Blu-ray and HD DVD are fighting over a very small piece of the hardware pie. Sales of DVDs and DVD players still dwarf those of both next-gen formats combined: the DVD of Happy Feet sold over 4 million copies during the last week of March, which is almost twice as much as the total next-gen disc format sales since their launch over a year ago. It's a vicious cycle for the next-gen formats: sales won't grow significantly because of consumer uncertainty, that uncertainty won't lessen until there's a clear winner, and a clear winner won't emerge until sales of one format are significant enough to bury the other.

RIAA file-sharing case ending with squabble over check for attorneys’ fees

The long-running drama between the RIAA and Debbie Foster is about to come to an end, but not without an additional bit of fighting about the attorneys' fees. After Debbie Foster triumphed in the copyright infringement case brought against her by the record labels, she sought and obtained an award for attorneys' fees. After the RIAA exhausted its appeals—and after some further prodding from Foster—it finally cut Foster a check for $68,685.23 on August 30. HangZhou Night Net

Case closed, right? Wrong. Foster subsequently filed a motion to amend the attorneys' fees award citing two major factors: the amount of the payment and the way in which it was paid. Although the RIAA paid in full up to the time that the amount of the award was finalized, it neglected to include fees incurred by Foster's attorney pertaining to a hearing on July 5. It also neglected to include the interest that had accrued since the date of the award.

Foster's attorney Marilyn Barringer-Thomson was also displeased that the plaintiffs overnighted her a single check payable to Debbie Foster instead of electronically transferring the funds to the accounts of those in line for payments. As a result, the plaintiff would not have immediate access to the funds due to the bank's policy of placing a hold on checks. Copyright attorney Ray Beckerman commented that it is "highly unusual for a judgment debtor's attorneys not to follow the judgment creditor's attorney's payment instructions."

The RIAA countered by filing a motion to deem the judgment satisfied. Their argument was simple: we cut the check in the proper amount, and it's now in Foster's possession, so let's call it a day. An RIAA spokesperson told Ars that Foster's filing "misstates the facts and misconstrues the judgment in this case," saying that they made payment in "strict compliance" with the order.

"As a professional courtesy, we were willing to pay the fees to counsel's trust account via wire transfer. When we asked defendant's counsel to confirm that doing so would be in satisfaction of the judgment—which it clearly is—she refused and insisted we pay her money above the amount set forth in the judgment," the RIAA spokeswoman told Ars. "Because counsel met our professional courtesy with a lack of cooperation and an unreasonable insistence that we pay her sums beyond what were ordered, we chose to avoid any dispute and made payment in strict compliance with the Court's judgment."

In an order issued earlier today, Judge Lee R. West pointed out that it's not the fault of the plaintiffs that the bank places a hold on checks and said that there is no authority barring the payment of attorneys' fees by check. Judge West denied Foster's motion to amend the judgment but instructed the RIAA to calculate post-judgment interest and cut Foster another check on or before September 13. Once that has occurred, he'll rule on the RIAA's motion to deem the attorneys' fees judgment satisfied.

Given how the whole case played out, there's little surprise that it is ending with this level of acrimony. At the end of the day, Foster has been cleared of copyright infringement, while the RIAA is left paying the legal bills for both parties.

Rage guitarist Tom Morello to appear in Guitar Hero 3

While Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3 continue their feature-war for your rhythm dollar, the truth is the gamer is winning. They both want to give you the ultimate rock experience, and that means they're both fighting for the best songs and the best bands—I couldn't be happier. Today, Activision announced that, along with Slash, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello will appear in Guitar Hero 3 as a boss character. HangZhou Night Net

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock boss battles give fans a chance to compete against legendary guitarists such as Slash and now Tom Morello. Players are required to deplete the boss' Rock Meter before the boss goes into their Death Drain solo, which always means 'lights-out.' After defeating a boss, players unlock that guitarist as a playable character and continue to the encore for the set list, which is a master recording of one of their respective bands' most well-known tracks. When Morello is defeated, the next performance is "Bulls on Parade," during which Morello performs on stage alongside the player.

That sounds pretty kickass, and Tom Morello is already a fan of the game. "Whenever I play Guitar Hero my opponent always kicks my ass on my own riffs. It's embarrassing," says Morello in the release. "Now that I'm actually IN the game I hope the digital me will win once in awhile!"

Activision lauds Bulls on Parade, calling Morello's work "a highly unusual solo that sounds more like a turntable than a guitar by making use of the toggle switch and rubbing his hand along the strings parallel to the neck of the guitar." It remains to be seen how that will be played in the game, but it will be fun to find out.

Competition is a good thing.

Tabula Rasa receives ship date: October 19

At E3 two years ago the NCSoft booth had fire breathers, a live band, and Tabula Rasa. It was a little hard to get a sense for Richard Garriot's futuristic MMORPG. Luckily, in the time since, Opposable Thumbs has been able to take a look at the game at PAX and take the title for a test drive through the beta. Now we know when the game will be released: October 19. HangZhou Night Net

"It has been a heck of a journey," said Richard Garriott, the game's executive producer. "The fact that we are getting ready for the final stretch towards launch feels great, but it is also just the beginning. I think we've managed to do something truly unique and I hope that the gaming community likes it as much as we do. Now, I am looking forward to a really fun 'end of beta event' for our incredible testers, and focusing development on new planets and innovations for future expansions of Tabula Rasa."

The standard edition will be $49.99 and be available at retailers and through NCSoft's online store, and the special edition will be available for $69.99. The more expensive version features a special emote, an in-game pet, new armor colors, a coin, maps, and all those fun things that make us want to pay $20 more for our online games.

Now, while we're on this topic, this is something funny I just stumbled upon. Our first gaming writer for Ars Technica, Carl, went to E3 in 2001. There, he heard about a game that was being made by Lord British, aka Richard Garriot. Keep in mind, this was 2001.

Perhaps better known as Lord British, Richard Garriott revealed some details of his new development house, Destination Games. The biggest coup for Destination Games so far is the deal with Korean game company NCsoft to bring Lineage: The Blood Pledge to North America. Lineage is a hugely popular online multiplayer RPG (akin to Everquest), which boasts more than 2 million registered players.

In discussing the future of Destination Games, Garriott made vague comments about a future project called Tabula Rassa (an online RPG), but details were few. One thing is known: it'll be 2.5 years in development, which is just a blink in Duke Nukem Forever years.

I can't even link to it directly, you're going to have to just scroll down in this post. I remember reading that thinking two and a half years sounded like a long time. That was in 2001. We were already making fun of Duke Nukem Forever. Crazy.

Apple faces third class action lawsuit over iPhone batteries

Apple's lawyers must be ready for a vacation right about now, since they've had quite a busy summer. In addition to not one but two class action lawsuits over iPhone batteries, they've also been faced with a variety of other suits. There doesn't seem to be much of an end in sight, either, since Apple has now been hit with a third class action suit over the infamous batteries, and has escalated the original battery suit to the federal level. HangZhou Night Net

The newest class action suit was written by two firms responsible for the earlier battery suits, so it should come as no surprise that the allegations are essentially the same. According to the complaint seen by Ars Technica, the plaintiffs (along with other iPhone buyers) were never informed the battery could only be replaced by Apple. They were also never aware of the cost of a such a replacement. The suit also claims that the battery will need to be replaced every year, which (once again) may be a bit of a stretch. Don't expect this suit to be resolved anytime soon, though. There are already two battery suits out there, one of which Apple seems to be moving on, so I suspect this case will get put on the back burner until a judge decides on one of the other two.

The first suit, filed by Jose Trujillo in an Illinois court, does appear to be getting some attention from Apple. Based on a short action submitted to the court, Apple's lawyers are removing the case from county court, and escalating it to federal court in the Northern District of Illinois. The change is occurring thanks to the 2005 Class Action Fairness Act, which allows multi-state class action suits with over $5 million in damages to be moved to federal court. The hope is that the federal court will deal more fairly with companies in multiple states, in the event that the case actually goes to trial. It's unclear if Apple will try to settle out of court, as they like to do, but we'll just have to wait and see.