The New York Times this morning published an interesting article describing the battle over next-generation DVD formats:

What if nobody wins the high-definition DVD format wars? That increasingly looks to be the situation for the next-generation DVD technology, which is available to consumers in two incompatible formats.

Here are some facts and figures from the article:

Consumers will have purchased a combined 1 million Blu-Ray and HD DVD players by the end of 2007. Of these, 578,000 are HD DVD, while 370,000 Blu-Ray players have sold. This doesn't include the Blu-Ray-equipped PlayStation 3, however: Sony will have sold 3.4 million PS3s by the end of 2007. Microsoft meanwhile, has sold 300,000 HD DVD drive add-ons for the Xbox 360 as well.

Both formats offer about 400 movies. There are 90,000 DVDs offered on Netflix.

Studios in the HD DVD camp: Dreamworks, Paramount, Universal, Weinstein, Warner Bros.

Studios in the Blu-Ray camp: Columbia, Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, Miramax, New Line, Sony, Warner Bros.

Percentage of HDTV buyers who expect to purchase a high-definition DVD player by early 2008: 11

Least expensive 1080i HD DVD player: $200

Least expensive 1080p HD DVD player: $250

Least expensive 1080p Blu-Ray player: $280

Price of a combo unit from LG: $1000

Number of HD DVD-equipped notebook computers that will sell by the end of 2008: 5 million

Blu-Ray owners are purchasing twice as many HD discs as are HD DVD drive owners.

Formats offered at Blockbuster and Netflix: Both. ("Of Blockbuster’s 5,000 physical stores, 250 offer both high-definition DVD formats, while 1,450 rent only Blu-ray; the rest offer none. The company emphasizes Blu-ray because 70 percent of its rentals are for that format.")

We finally upgraded to a 1080p HDTV a few months ago and I immediately plugged in a Blu-Ray-equipped PS3 and HD DVD-based Xbox 360 to compare the two formats. Neither has an audio or video advantage from what I can tell, but both are significantly better than any DVD- or digital download movie I've ever seen, and by a wide margin. On Demand from FIOS TV doesn't hold up either, though some of the live HD content I've seen, like that on HDNet Movies, can come pretty close. That said, both Blu-Ray and HD DVD are kind of a tough sell right now.

One slightly related factoid: The Xbox 360 does a much better job of unconverting upconverting normal DVD movies than the PS3. And this is true even when the Xbox 360 is connected via a non-HDMI input and the PS3 is on HDMI. I'm not sure what Sony is getting wrong here exactly, but the difference is staggering.

Regardless of which format, if either, ever wins, one thing is clear: Once you go HD, you'll never want to go back. Ever.