Toshiba prepares its exit

The HD DVD camp is finally ready to cry uncle and cede defeat to Sony-developed Blu-ray.

Toshiba is expected to formally announce its withdrawal from the HD DVD biz as early as this week, a move that shifts studio holdouts Universal and Paramount to Blu-ray by necessity. Both have been hanging tough with Toshiba as it launched a series of last-ditch promotions, including a Hail Mary ad during the Super Bowl.

However, a series of defections by major retailers last week sealed HD DVD’s fate. Wal-Mart delivered the fatal blow on Friday when it announced that it would begin to phase out HD DVD discs and players over the next few months in favor of Blu-ray and standard DVD. The retail giant projected that its Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores would be HD DVD free by June — the same month Warners will stop production of discs in that format.

Earlier in the week, Netflix made a similar endorsement and consumer electronics giant Best Buy said it would favor Blu-ray more than it already does at its stores.

Toshiba’s exit would conclude six-year battle between it and Sony, which has been pining for a victory ever since it lost the Betamax battle with Matsushita’s VHS format in the early days of homevid.

Apparent end to format war comes amid slowing sales of standard DVD discs and aggressive moves by studios to ramp up digital delivery of their pics. In fact some prognosticators believe consumers will embrace digital delivery, via downloads or video on demand, instead of high-def discs. Warners set off the recent flurry of movement among high-def camps when it dropped its dual format support to endorse Blu-ray on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in early January.

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