Universal seen clear of obligations to HD DVD, may switch to Blu-ray

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The two remaining studios backing HD DVD could soon switch sides to Blu-ray, ending the next-generation high-definition format war instantly, according to a published report.

Variety claims confirmation that Universal's commitment to endorsing HD DVD exclusively has ended. The publication further states that Paramount — the format's other backer — has an escape clause in its contract that allows it to release flicks on Blu-ray now that Warner Bros. has decided to throw its weight completely behind the rival digital video disc format.

Still, it's reported that neither studio is ready switch sides just yet. For its part, Universal is said to be committed to a series of upcoming HD DVD promotions, and Paramount has said its current plans are to keep supporting HD DVD, which it backed exclusively in August.

News of Universal's contractual arrangements with the HD DVD camp comes just one week after Warner Bros. said it would switch to releasing high-definition movies only in the Blu-ray disc format, abandoning a neutral strategy that saw its catalog available for both HD DVD and Blu-ray next-generation DVD players.

That news was almost immediately followed by reports that Paramount would also soon drop its support of the Toshiba-backed HD DVD format in favor of the largely Sony-based Blu-ray. Paramount, however, has denied the reports.

Should Toshiba eventually concede defeat on the format front-lines, Variety believes the decision to put HD DVD to rest would be made by both studios. Given the recent shakeup in the next-gen format wars, it's further speculated that retailers are unlikely to keep devoting premium shelf space to the ailing HD DVD format much longer, regardless of the studios' intentions.

With Warners' planned departure from HD DVD, only Paramount and Universal remain as supporters. Meanwhile, Blu-ray now boasts a lineup of proponents that include Sony, Disney, Fox, and Lionsgate, in addition to Warner and its sister companies New Line and HBO.

Last summer, Blockbuster also threw its weight behind Blu-ray.