Thursday, January 31, 2008

The future is (not) Blu

I mentioned a month or two ago that I bought an HD-DVD player when Wal-Mart featured them in a pre-Christmas doorbuster sale for $100. I was not taking sides in the format war... I was voting with my wallet. I don't figure it's worth spending much more than $100 for *any* video disk player, regardless of format. Since then, there's been a couple more rounds in the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray slugfest. Blu-Ray's on top right now, due mostly to their content availability coup, where they convinced Warner Bros. to go Blu-Ray only. So, all the fanboys are whipping up the rhetoric in the message boards, goading each other about how HD-DVD isn't long for the world. I've got a few thoughts about this topic:

1.) By far, the most popular Blu-Ray player is the PlayStation 3 gaming console. They cost at least $400, and Sony may have, after over a year of production, finally managed to eke out a small profit on each PS3 console sold. The upshot of all this is that few people are buying the purpose-built Blu-Ray player, where there may be some profit. Yes, yes, I know. My $100 HD-DVD player was sold at a loss, too. But that was back when there was much more of a format war going on. Based on stand-alone player pricing trends over the past few weeks, it looks like Sony and other Blu-Ray player vendors are already 'making their acceptance speeches,' as the victors in the format war. Purpose-built Blu-Ray player prices during the holidays dipped below $300, while HD-DVD was more of a threat. Now, you won't find a player for less than $300, and most are back up to $400. Why would I buy one when my $400 would also net me a whiz-bang gaming console, to boot? - Put more simply, if there's no longer a format war, and your standard is the victor, you better make sure you're in a position to make some money by selling hardware.

2.) My HD-DVD player does a *beautiful* job upconverting standard DVDs to HD quality. No, they don't look as good as real HD content, but upconverted DVDs look *way* better than when they are played back on a standard DVD player. I could be satisfied for quite a while watching upconverted Sdandard-Def DVDs... probably long enough to wait for either Blu-Ray prices to drop *significantly*

or 3.) with the purchase of my HD-DVD player, I may have purchased my last disc player, ever. Once Apple, Vudu, or brand x get their online act together, I'll just rent what I want to watch online, and forego the purchase of yet another disc player.

So... There are three alternatives, any of which are likely, and none of which are unique to my household. None of them feature me adding to Sony's bottom line anytime soon, either. Sony may have won the Blu-Ray battle, but they may have lost the high-def disc war.

(Oh, and by the way, the ability to record on any of these discs is a non-event in my mind. Until one of the multi-hundreds of gigabyte rewritable optical disk formats is economical for the average user, I'll keep buying those unbelievably cheap (by comparison) multi-hundred gigabyte USB/SATA external hard drives for my storage needs.)

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