There are plenty of volleys going back and forth these days from the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD camps about who is selling more titles or more players. To paraphrase the Bard, "It may be much ado about nothing." While it certainly is a crucial issue for Toshiba, Sony, and Microsoft among others, the consumer seems non-plused over next-generation high definition optical disc. The early adopter, on the other hand, is trying to decide between either format, and is weighing the plus and minus of each format. Sales of next-gen DVD players to early adopters amount to about 1-percent of the total DVD sales.
Why is the mainstream so little concerned about a high-def disc? It's simple. Going from VHS tape to DVD was a big step, and everyone could see a demonstrable difference between tape and disc. On top of that, you didn't have the technical issues of a tape being stuck in a VCR either. By the time DVD came onto the scene in the late 1990s, consumers were familiar with shinny 5-in. discs because of the CD. So, instead of storing music, DVD stored movies. It was simple. With next-generation optical discs, it's not so easy. While both high-def formats certainly look better than DVD on a HDTV, is it demonstrably better? The answer is probably no.
Now, personally, I'm a fan of both HD DVD and Blu-ray. I've reviewed both formats for Digital TV DesignLine and other publications, and I like what I've seen. Yes, 1st-generation player had their issues, which were corrected in 2nd-generation models for both formats. At CES 2008 in January, we will see 3rd-generation models, and they will be better than previous models. However, for most consumers, the prices will still be too high. Some early adopters will simply purchase a combo player from either LG or Samsung for about $900 and be done with it. While they could just as easily buy a player from each format, but that would take up more space in their equipment rack or use up another HDMI input
Let's face it; the consumer can buy an upconverting DVD player for less than $150, which will give you near HD quality. And, for most folks, it's good enough. And, that's the problem for both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Yes, they've purchased a new high definition TV, but with an upconverting DVD player, it's good enough. And, let's not forget that many new TVs have improved video processing that helps further improve image quality. So, the consumer doesn't see the demonstrable difference in image quality that he/she did back between VHS and DVD.
What needs to be done? Blu-ray and HD DVD have to come down in price between $150 and $200, which will make a dent with mainstream consumers. The format that can bring its technology to the price of DVD will certainly have a leg up over its competitor. Once either format reaches price parity, it allows the consumer to step-up to the next-generation optical disc. And, if a particular format becomes inexpensive enough, it could easily make a Hollywood Studio in a different format camp come around to produce titles in that less expensive format. It would just make good business sense.
And, of course, there are some folks who believe that next-generation high-definition optical discs of either format are "dead in the water." This group believes in video downloading or streaming of HD movies and programming is coming soon. Hmm. I think that it will be a long time before this is a reality because there are many factors against this scenario including the smallness of the pipe, lack of Ethernet connection, lack of wireless 802.11n connectivity, and so forth. By the time video downloads and video streaming of HD becomes a true reality, we will be beyond HD DVD and Blu-ray and onto entirely new formats. So, stay tuned!