Blu-ray “Circling the Drain”

Bill Gates once asserted that HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray would be the last format war. At the time my opinion (which I did not immortalize in this blog) was that it was already irrelevant. DVD was the last format. The reason I didn’t blog about this was everyone I spoke with on the topic agreed with me. My opinion was neither unusual nor controversial.

But apparently it’s news to ZDNet’s Robin Harris:

16 months ago I called the HD war for Blu-ray. My bad. Who dreamed they could both lose?

Well, pretty much anyone with a clue, evidently. There’s a reason Apple has assiduously ignored Blu-ray in both its hardware and software offerings — no-one cares.

DVDs and CDs before them were successful in large part because they were relatively cheap and robust compared with laser disks, video tapes, audio cassettes, and records. (If you’re old enough to have owned a significant number of LPs, you probably remember making tapes of your records to save wear and tear on the records, and replacing favorite tapes at fairly regular intervals as they stretched or got mangled by car tape decks.)

Well, guess what? Digital downloads are cheaper and more robust than DVDs or CDs, and don’t lock you into hardware standards that will be obsolete before a given technology reaches critical mass.

So Blu-ray is simply not penetrating the market, no-one cares if there are cheap players. People are buying PS3s in droves but not playing Blu-ray disks on them (recall that for a long time the PS2 was a very good deal for playing DVDs). Meanwhile, the end of television as we know it, which I’ve been predicting was five years away for about ten years, looks like it’s happening right now. Finally, it seems to me that our state of economic turmoil will favor technologies with good cost characteristics, and that’s very bad news for all physical formats.