Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Blu-ray's victory doesn't matter to the consumer

A cnet blogger recently insisted that Microsoft has no choice but to release a Blu-ray attachment for the 360. Another commenter pointed out the "non-war" status, and that this whole media hubbub about this HD format war is ridiculous in the long run. I'm not convinced of digital downloads myself, but I agree that the HD disc war isn't as important as the media would have us believe.

Here is my comment:

What people are missing is that electronics history doesn't repeat itself in the same way as everything else. Sure, there was another format war, but the meaning of this war doesn't have the impact of the VHS/Betamax war. The rate of technology change is accelerating, not keeping at a steady speed.

The Mass Consumer already has a video player in the house. The Mass Consumer doesn't have an HDTV, and has been plenty happy with cheap regular DVD. Neither Blu-ray or HD-DVD offers a major convenience to the consumer. VHS offered the convenience of cheap home recording (replaced with DVRs), and DVD offered a crisp picture with no rewinding in a smaller form factor.

These HD discs are the same physical size. They add no convenience whatsoever, yet they cost 2-4 times as much as a DVD, which can be upscaled with decent results. They may offer more "features", but most consumers just want to watch the movie. Only fans of individual flicks will want to delve into commentaries and the likes.

Even with this "victory", the gains will be nowhere near the gains of the past. The demand isn't there yet, and it may take too long for Blu-ray to gain ground before a format with more convenience shows up.

Convenience is key. Above I mentioned why VHS and DVD were successful. Why were MP3 players/iPods successful? Smaller, less parts, held more. Why are the poor-resolution videos on youtube so popular? Lots of content in a single place. Once again, neither HD-DVD or Blu-ray offers obvious convenience.

Looking back, maybe both companies attacked this whole thing wrong. Since Blu-ray could hold so much more data, maybe they should have spared us the unnecessary content but reduced the physical size. HD-DVD could have stood for "High Density" DVD at first, with the ability to hold 5+ DVD movies on a single disc. They could have eased the consumer to High Definition if their players became successful. While either may sound preposterous, at least they show how convenience could have been added to these formats.

For now, we have the "decided" technology available and it's time to see if it can catch the mainstream. The next few years will tell if us media regurgitators were entranced by possibly a meaningless war.


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