10 MORE Reasons Why HD-DVD Formats Have Already Failed
OK, the the title is a tad-bit deceiving. It's been almost a year now since I wrote my popular yet controversial diatribe on the demise of the competing high definition DVD formats. I wrote the article to illustrate the reasons I believed the formats would fail - even before they fully left the starting gate. The article was accused of many things - the least of which was jumping the gun and not giving the new formats a chance.
Many of the criticisms we received were fair, some were more animated and came largely from early adopters who didn't want to believe their investment wouldn't pay off in the near future. Well, for some clarification, I am all about early adopters - they are the reason CE products ever become affordable in the first place and we salute them. To be an early adopter is to have technology and features in your home most people only dream of, and it's a great place to be.
Lots of comments led me to believe that the premise of the original article was somewhat misunderstood, so let me clarify: I believe that both HD DVD and Blu-ray will fail to become successful, mainstream replacement formats for DVD and will instead remain as niche products while eventually fading into obscurity. If one needs a direct comparison, simply look at the SACD and DVD-Audio formats. I am also not contesting the fact that HD DVD and Blu-ray look considerably better than standard DVD (upconverted or not). I am also defining 'successful' in terms of mass-market adoption - something I do not believe these formats will ever do. Some may say that SACD and DVD-Audio formats are a success - I would respectfully disagree; and I believe HD DVD and Blu-ray are both headed in this general direction despite all the monies being spent on their marketing and adoption as next-generation formats.
It's now a full year past the date of that article and past all of the initial hoopla surrounding the birth of the two competing formats: Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD - so what of my initial assumptions? Is one format clearly dominating over another? Are they quickly on their way to becoming mainstream solutions for high definition content? Have any of the 10 issues I outlined previously turned out to be nothing more than a false prediction or erroneous belief? Well, let's take them one at a time and revisit whether or not I was accurately predicting the future (so far) or whether my critics were correct and it was all a bunch of hyperbole and nonsense...
1. Nobody Likes False Starts
It took HD DVD until CES 2007 (January) to announce a true 1080p player in the US. The announcement came with so much confusion that more than one vendor at the Consumer Electronics Show swore up and down to me that Toshiba's new player still didn't output 1080p (they were wrong). I have had the product in my possession since it debuted. The transport is still extremely, dare I say embarrassingly, slow (how abouot 39 seconds to power up and eject the tray) and the new players fail to pass Blacker-than-Black in certain configurations - a test that determines whether the players can truly recreate the deepest levels of a dark image. Blu-ray players didn't fare much better with Samsung's June 2006 debut having the "hourglass of doom" and featuring its own transport lagging issues. Taking a look back at the past year I'd have to say that a grand total of 6 manufacturers and a half-dozen or so players does not make for a stunning, nor compelling, release. HDMI 1.3 is now available across the board and many titles are now featuring Dolby TrueHD, though so far my luck has been 50/50 with just as many titles having Dolby Digital Plus as the dominant audio format.
2. Format Wars Don't Sell Players
Software is picking up. As of May 1st, 2007 184 HD DVD titles have been released in the US according to Wiki. Blu-ray is faring better and is now up to around 289 titles. The reason both numbers aren't higher is largely due to some holdouts who are not releasing titles in both formats - again, another decision which is ultimately costing the technology in terms of marketshare. In a general sense, however, I don't really see a change here. It seems that every other month one format or the other is making some kind of claim to be outselling the other in terms of software titles - typically to the tune of erroneous reporting and somewhat dubious statistics. Universal players made a big splash at the 2007 CES in Vegas; however when tentative pricing turned out to be about the cost of buying the players separately, not to mention some crippled functionality in the LG unit, excitement on that front waned somewhat. The bottom line is that cross-platform hardware is no substitute for eliminating the format war and I do not foresee expensive hybrid players ending the format war any sooner.
3. HD DVD and Blu-ray are NOT Quantum Leaps in Technology
I was given a first-hand experience of the absolute apathy consumers have towards the new high definition formats when I invited my father-in-law and brother-in-law over for a movie night. We watched Batman Begins on HD DVD, arguably a reference disc. We watched it on an ISF-calibrated 1080p projector (a Mitsubishi HC5000, in for review from ProjectorPeople.com) and the results were amazing. Even though I told them they were watching it in true high definition they never seemed to understand the significance. You see, to the average consumer, DVDs are high definition.
They were impressed by the 100-inch diagonal projector screen, but the fact that it was being displayed at higher-than-DVD resolution didn't seem to affect them one bit. It is my continuing contention that until prices of players drop below $200 and high-definition discs either replace the DVD or become so commonplace as to be recognized by the general public, the switch from DVD to HD-DVD is going to remain something that only significantly impacts enthusiasts who make up a relatively small percentage of the total market.
4. Studios are Conservative, Greedy and Unmotivated
Studios do not seem to be coming together, though a few have jumped ship and are now supporting both formats (a move in the right direction). Currently Blu-ray Disc is exclusively supported by Columbia Pictures and MGM (Sony), Disney, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate. Both Blu-ray and HD DVD are supported by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. HD DVD is exclusively supported by Universal Studios and The Weinstein Company. In my opinion the studios not supporting both formats at this point are simply shooting themselves in the foot.
Pricing of new HD DVD discs seems to have dropped, though there are plenty of titles still coming in at around $27.95 on Amazon.com (mostly in the hybrid format which makes absolutely no sense due to the added cost.) The hybrid Combo HD DVD/DVD format sounds like a good idea at first glance, however they cost more - which does nothing for those with HD DVD players and very little for owners of standard DVD players. Most HD DVD owners we've talked to would just as soon save the additional $8 and lose the DVD side. Standard DVD owners could care less about paying twice as much for a format they may never use. Blu-ray discs are hovering around $23.95 and both formats seem to have a plethora of titles at around $19.95. With standard DVDs positioned around $15.99-$17.99, the pricing of the HD formats isn't awful, though consumers will not spring for the higher pricing until they fully understand the reasons behind it. The fact that an HD DVD owner cannot purchase all of the movies they want on HD DVD (and likewise for Blu-ray owners) is ludicrous at best and a good sign that those involved still believe that a "winner" will emerge in this format war. To me this is a little like watching two third world countries battle for control over a section of desert.
One other point that is an interesting possibility is that studios tend to be somewhat unreliable towards CE manufacturers - their focus is on the distribution of software. As a result, if a better solutions comes along it is very likely that support for this senseless format war will wane and studios will focus their energies on the next big thing to make them money. If you don't understand this, simply reflect back on how quickly laserdisc died out as a format once DVD came along. Video-on-Demand could do the same for HD-DVD technology.
5. Playstation3 Cannot Save the World
I believe it still cannot. I think it is fairly clear that with both Wii and Xbox 360 are dramatically outpacing the sales of PS3 units across the world, Sony has not capitalized on the PS3 as a means of getting Blu-ray into the homes (and more importantly the home theaters) of consumers. That's not to say that the console isn't selling like hotcakes (3.6 million worldwide), but with less than 50 games shipped and a considerably high retail price it's a very hard sell (Xbox 360 has over 285 games released and Wii, despite its limited titles, has sold nearly 6 million units worldwide.) The PS3 is struggling for marketshare as a gaming platform. With such a struggle, it doesn't seem practical for Sony to position the console, additionally, as a set-top Blu-ray box.
6. Those Who Ignore History…
My original article dealt with the failure of the music industry to adopt a new format to replace the CD and how technology alone is not sufficient motivation for consumers to universally adopt and acclimate to a new format. The failure of the majority of movie studios to even support both formats is a clear indicator that history is repeating itself. We have also seen no more indications that the formats are considering "uniting" under a global high definition solution. As such, it seems that this point continues to be an issue.
7. People Want Technology That's 15 Minutes Ahead of Its Time
Earlier I gave an example of my family not particularly caring about the advances of HD-DVD - they were simply enamored with watching a movie on a 100-inch screen. This, I have personally found, is the case with most non-enthusiast consumers. I believe the conditions still exist which made this an issue in the first place. Consumers simply aren't ready for a new high definition DVD format if it isn't spelled out simply and delivered in a manner that isn't confusing or easily mistaken for existing formats. The only way HD-DVD can be pushed on consumers is, well, to push it on consumers. DVD would have to be replaced. HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc are not being positioned as replacements to DVD, they are simply an option - and one that is being largely ignored by the public despite millions of dollars being spent on competitive marketing. It's too much, too fast, and with too little gain.
8. Enthusiasts Are Getting Tired (and Smarter)
With false starts for both HD DVD and Blu-ray as well as the PS3, this issue is still a state of mind for many consumers - even those who are consistently early adopters. The back and forth claims made by both camps also doesn't do much to convince buyers that either format is positioned to take over and dominate a 'new world order' of high definition media.
9. A Skeptical News Media Doesn't Help
OK, I'll be the first to admit that I'm part of the problem, however Sony is launching a new marketing campaign called "The Format War is Over." With this kind of ridiculous marketing (as if merely saying it makes it true) is there any reason media and editors around the Internet are calling Blu-ray's bluff? This is hardly one-sided as well, with HD DVD making large, sweeping claims each time it can grasp a statistic that shows in its favor. Both camps are out to lunch and cannot see that all they have succeeded in doing is forming two elitist camps that cause consumer confusion and a general sense of apathy that we all have to go through such a debacle again - after so many past lessons have taught us better.
10. Broadband and IPTV to Compete?
It seems that every week we hear something new about cable and satellite TVs plans to expand their ability to deliver HD content. Combined with technology like Verizon's Fios service it seems only a matter of time until video-on-demand takes the role for primary delivery medium of high definition content.
While many have dissected this original article and attempted to say that the format war will someday end and a winner declared, I respectfully disagree. I believe all aspects of my initial assessment continue to hold true - one year later - and at best high definition DVD (at least as far as Blu-ray and HD DVD are concerned) is headed for a niche market of AV enthusiasts. This seems destined to occur regardless if one format eventually disappears or not.
That's still my story and I'm (still) sticking to it.
My parents are a great example of what the problem is. They purchased an HD television on my recommendation. DirectTV came out and set up satellite and voila! HD right? Wrong!! But they believe they have HD and well, "if this is as good as it looks, what's all the hub-bub, Bub?" I schedule a visit and sure enough, the HD from the technician is an S-Video cable. The STB isn't even set to output greater than 480i and certainly not in widescreen. I fix that with an HDMI cable and provide the setup.
Next, I get them an HD-DVD. They don't understand why I have to get them a special cable when they've got a drawer full of those damn red, white and yellow video cables in the drawer!! I have to go into full explanation mode.
Next, they get a sound system I recommend and once again, there's those pesky different digital connections. Again, "what do you need a special cable for when I have a drawer full of those damn red, white and yellow cables?"
Now, finally, they're all set up. But wait, there's a remote for the TV, the STB, the HD-DVD, the VCR (still has to have tapes!!) and the receiver. They can't use anything (they're so confused and exasperated!) , so I get them a Logitech remote and program it for them. They're happy they have such a technically adept son. However, I come to visit them and they're watching the low def analog channels. Why? The OTA antenna from DirectTV was never installed, so another call to those guys for scheduling this. Finally, it gets put in place and now they have the local HD channels, right? Well, no. The program guide information shows up for the locals only on the analog feeds, so when they scan through the guide, they see what they want and press okay. So now they are watching the analog feed totally unaware that the same programming is a click up or down in HD.
So, what we have are connectivity and ease of use issues that are an impediment. Components should all talk to each other, have a handshake and an agreement about what is the best settings for the attached equipment and then everything adjusts itself accordingly. Total ease of use. Dummy-proof. That's not going to happen, though, and moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers all across the country are blithley going through this world in complete ignorance of everything that needs to be done to get great sound and a great picture and for all that, they just really don't give a hoot, and THAT, my friends, is what is going to keep HD as an enthusiast level product. At least until HD is force fed upon all of us and connectivity and simplicity are synonymous.
The three kinds of people you describe perfectly fit the people I have been talking to about the hirez audio formats! Perhaps my pigeonhole would read as such:
1. Don't Know.
2. Don't Care.
3. Yes, more please!
I seriously, honestly, can't wait until SD goes black. One, the looks on the faces of those that said it would never happen, and two, HD towers at 100% finally.
Yes, you did mention it as the 10th reason in your latest article (albeit with a question mark -- an indication that it may or may not have the impact you thought it would), so my bad on that! I guess I was looking at it with more emphasis and possibly the real reason the formats aren't taking hold.
BTW, no worries on getting PS3 owners peeved -- while Sony was more concerned with higher video resolution, more processing power, and getting their own media/format firmly entrenched in the marketplace, Nintendo was more concerned with making a better and more fun gaming experience. I don't own any of the consoles (though my friends seem to get all of them).
Let them complain about your reasons for the PS3 Blu-Ray push -- the market so far has largely backed up the notion that high def movies are slow to catch on...
Anyhow, he still has a 32" (might I say high end) JVC SD tube set in his remodeled family room. He's stuck with it because his expensive oak entertainment unit (only a few years old) can only fit a 32" 4:3 tv and he refuses to get rid of the entertainment center. His brother has the same issue. The opening in his expensive entertainment center only fits the larger 4:3 sets. I tried to tell both of them they could do drop down screens and projectors, but mounting a projector was out of the question. A 32" LCD would work, but the they both said the height of the LCD and overall pic is a lot smaller. They are correct. Both realize the clarity of HD. It's just a sad situation for those who have high end entertainment centers built around 4:3 sets.
By the way, the US Open was horribly in SD compared to in HD.
I will give him some credit for the music being piped outside for the party. He had two Klipsch PC speakers with a ton of music. It actually didn't sound too bad for a patio. I couldn't figure out how he got a line from his pc to the back yard (would have been 50' +). Then I saw the MP3 player. It was so simple. Technology - it works with MP3, but with HD, it's a pain in the asss. All the money in the world, and he opts for opposite of lossless music, but refuses to go HD because of furniture issues.
I will say when I got my entertainment center, I wanted something flexible. I had a 36" CRT Toshiba that weighed 200lbs. I am able to get a 40" LCD in there, but nothing larger unless I take out the stand. The top slides for floor type sets. Furniture really limits you in this hobby.
If every channel you had on cable or satellite was HD and you went and popped in an SD-DVD it would look like crap and you would want a newer player.
Until you stop hearing..."Oh it doesnt look so bad" about SD-TV you wont be hearing how good HD format discs are.
Oh and for "Fake" media taking over physical discs, not gonna happen with me, I dont even rent movies, I prefer to have a physical real copy in my hands, the only media I stream off my PC are adult flicks and music.