Research firm ABI Research just issued a new report that points to continuing struggles for Blu-ray technology. According to the report, more than half of the consumers surveyed have no plans to buy a Blu-ray player, and 23% more won't buy one this year. That leaves a total market of about 25% of the consumer base that might buy. I'm not surprised at the data but I think ABI missed on a couple of key points.
I'll admit up front that I've never been a Blu-ray fan. In a prior gig I authored a number of editorials and blog posts stating my feelings that for Sony, Blu-ray was purely about generating a new royalty revenue stream and not a bit about delivering a superior consumer product. Indeed HD-DVD could have been adopted more quickly and at a much lower price to the consumer. But as I have also stated in the past, the consumer really doesn't derive much added value with HD-DVD or Blu-ray. Now HDTV has been a huge video-quality upgrade for consumers watching broadcast TV " especially sports. But existing DVD quality is really good enough for most consumers. Moreover, HD-capable DVRs and downloadable HD-quality movies are providing or soon will provide stiff competition to Blu-ray.
I always felt that a next-generation DVD technology would be far more valuable in game-console and computer applications. Indeed the HD-quality console games with extended story lines need greater-than-DVD capacity to store scenes. And even home PC users quickly fill today's recordable DVDs with home video.
The ABI report does point out that Sony PS3 (Playstation 3) is a bright spot for Blu-ray. But I think the researcher missed on the cause and effect. The report cites the popularity of the PS3 among hard-core gamers as the drive for the Blu-ray-enabled PS3 purchase. I'd argue that in fact most informed consumers that are in the market for a Blu-ray player simply buy a PS3 because it cost no more than a dedicated Blu-ray player. In fact, I could only justify the PS3 as a Holiday gift for my teen son last year because of the Blu-ray support. My son is an avid gamer, and he and his gamer friends still much prefer the Xbox 360 when they have a choice of platform for any give title. I think that the superior Xbox Live multiplayer technology drives the choice more than the differences in the hardware. I do also know that generally speaking there are still more popular titles for the Xbox 360 than for the PS3.
It will be interesting to see how the Blu-ray, game console, and downloadable-video technologies evolve the rest of the year. Indeed video downloads and the consoles are closely connected. Microsoft beat Sony to market with video downloads by years with its Xbox Live Markeplace, and recently announced a partnership with Netflix. Sony, meanwhile, finally announced a video service last month as detailed in this LA Times story. Again Sony is trying to own the consumer rather than allowing the consumer to make a choice in content provider. Microsoft, meanwhile went with the consumer favorite.
Downloadable services are also coming for dedicated DVD players. As Gizmodo recently reported, LG is planning to ship a Netflix-compatible Blu-ray player this Fall. Then again LG actually made the announcement last January. The recent news was prompted by an actual demo. But there's still no hard date for product availability. Even if the product ships in volume for the 2008 Holiday season, I don't see it as an attractive option relative to the game consoles. And despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, I do expect a Blu-ray drive for the Xbox.