Battle between Blu-Ray, HD DVD, and the Internet for your High Definition Dollars
If history is any indication, Blu-ray and HD DVD will soon knock DVDs off the stores shelves and out of your home-theater racks. Only a few years ago, retail stores and low-priced DVD players nailed the VHS coffin shut.
But as soon as Blockbuster, Best Buy, and other major retailers started moving away from VHS and offering more DVD titles, even the VHS diehards started transitioning to DVD due to the amount of selection available on DVD. Everything from movies, television shows, documentaries, etc. was, and can be, found on DVD. Studios loaded their media on DVDs. Now another shift is about to happen: the transition to HD optical formats. But this time, it won’t be as smooth as it was for DVD.
1. TWO DIFFERENT FORMATS? VHS vs. BETA part deux
First, there are two HD optical formats—HD DVD and Blu-ray—versus just one universal standard DVD. Toshiba is pushing HD DVD with the help of Microsoft, while Sony and nearly all of the movie studios push Blu-ray. It really doesn’t matter who wins, as long as one format wins quickly, and saving the customers money when choosing ann HD optical format.
2. AFFORDABLE HARDWARE
Second, it will take some time for HD DVD and Blu-ray players to hit that magical $99 retail price that it took DVD to hit to become mainstream. Currently, Sony’s stand alone BDP-S1 Blu-ray player costs $999.95, while Toshiba’s HDXA1 HD DVD player comes in at $799.99. Sony does offer the Playstation 3 which includes a Blu-Ray player for only $499.99 (for the cheapest version). Toshiba also has a version (HD-A1) that costs $499.99. You can buy an HD DVD add-on to your Microsoft XBOX 360 for only $199.99 to have an HD player.
For prices to come down, the scale of production needs to increase. But due to the conflicting formats, many consumers are waiting to purchase a player, making it difficult for production to scale up and prices to drop.
3. WHO IS HD FOR?
Third, the market for these HD optical players is somewhat limited to consumers who already have a capable HDTV—namely, an HDTV that can display 1080p. To take full advantage of true 1080p, you’ll need a 1080p display. The good news is that televisions are becoming standard with this display option, and the prices are just starting to level off in comparison to technology. Though it is predicted that roughly 10% of the market will have this technology while the format wars are going on.
FAILURE OF BOTH: The Internet
Some skeptics believe neither format will succeed, expecting movie download services via the Internet to render optical formats obsolete. For instance, Microsoft’s Xbox Live movie rental and download service has HD content. With Xbox 360 consoles already connected to a TV, the problem of connecting downloaded HD content is easily solved.
Even with a faster pipe at 6 Mbits/s from cable Internet, a broadband Internet connection will require several hours to completely download an HD movie. Assuming the size of a compressed HD movie is 10 Gbytes, downloading via a 6-Mbit/s Internet pipe will take approximately four hours. For 1080p content, the download will take much longer due to the sheer size.
Not everyone has a 6-Mbit/s broadband connection. The most popular bandwidth seems to average around 1.5 Mbits/s, which will quadruple the download time to about 16 hours! Fortunately, streaming technologies will let users begin watching the movie in several minutes, but there is always the issue if the internet drops.
Aside from the current limitations in technology, consumers have a psychological tendency to need to have something to hold, like an optical disc. The actual purchase of a physical goods; holding the product, inspection, and the actual transaction, fulfills a psychological void. Consumers who purchase a $25 Blu-ray movie via the Internet probably also will want to have a backup of the movie on a Blu-ray disc to reassure they have the physical movie.
Instead of downloading, then, most consumers would rather go to the store and purchase a Blu-ray disc for about the same price as an Internet download. However, they’ll get all the bells and whistles along with it, such as professional graphics on the optical disc packaged in a sturdy plastic case with a nicely printed cover.
The transition to HD optical formats is in progress. If history is any indication, it will run over DVD in a few short years - but it is going to take more than the early adopters to get either format going. Technology will have to improve, as well as prices drop, for the masses to adopt.
Let’s hope the battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD ends up in a quick knockout so consumers can feel confident about purchasing a HD optical player. If the battle goes for the long haul, the true winner will be the developers of the dual-format players.