Thursday, March 06, 2008

...and then there was one.

A long time ago, say 15 years ago, there were two technological forms of enjoying a movie at home. You could go with:

1- The entrenched format which produced a picture and sound most people considered to be between OK and pretty good, which had titles available everywhere at a reasonable purchase/rental cost and the units wherein they played could not only record television programs, they could also be had for a very reasonable cost.

or

2- The newest/latest thing. It offered a FAR greater picture resolution (+/- 40% sharper), spectacular sound, the capacity to include some snazzy special features, and software often came in special editions. The players cost significantly more, fewer manufacturers made them, and titles had both a smaller selection and a noticeably greater cost.

DVD vs. Blu-Ray in 2008?

Try VHS vs. Laser-Disc in 1993.

Blu-Ray has won over HD-DVD, as you all know. Toshiba learned from Sony backing Betamax until it practically bled itself white and cut its losses now. To coin a phrase, Blu-Ray has won the battle, but will it win the war?

What this means is will Blu-Ray replace DVD or will it replace LaserDisc?

As of this moment, I'm not so sure which is which. People took a gamble on HD-DVD because in the last few months, the cost of guessing wrong was pretty slight, not because they simply had to have maximum resolution. What Blu-Ray apologists fail to notice is that most people don't care about the improvements in picture quality of Blu-Ray over DVD. People like me do, but that's cold comfort, because only people like me bought LaserDiscs.

I've said it before: on most (not ALL) films the average person will consider the improvements in picture quality to be immaterial. Note that word carefully. As in "not enough to warrant the expense and hassle of switching."

A highly unscientific way to analyze this is using my wife as a survey group. She was not floored by the leap from VHS to LaserDisc, she was by the leap from VHS to DVD. She has only sometimes been floored by the leap from upconverted DVD to HD-DVD to Blu-Ray. She, whether anyone likes it or not, represents the overwhelming majority of video consumers out there. People who look at Forbidden Planet or Blazing Saddles on some HD format and say "Meh. Looks a bit nicer."

The Blu-Ray people are not doing their long term growth any favors by keeping the player prices so bloody high. As I type -- sort of taking a chance on eBay -- you cannot buy anything to play a Blu-Ray disc for under $400. Stan Glascow from Sony was interviewed by The New York Times and said by Christmas 2008 the much vaunted "inexorable drop in Blu-Ray player prices" is expected to yield a $299 player. Don't expect to see $200 players until 2009.

How this is supposed to eat into DVD's market share is a mystery to me.

At any rate, HD-DVD players are practically free, upconvert DVDs beautifully and HD-DVD discs are actually cheaper than their "plain" DVD brethren. This ought keep most people busy for a while until Blu-Ray decides to get serious, or the next greatest thing comes along.

$399 for a Blu-Ray player? Yeah. Good luck with that, let me know how it turns out.

The next DVD or the next LaserDisc...it's up to them.

-J.

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