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.

  • We’re almost exclusively digital content consumers now. The decision was made primarily due to unreliability of DVDs, especially around children and people who don’t care as much about DVD care as I do.

    I think a lot of consumers are looking at online services and comparing it to the non-deterministic nature of the general experience of DVD store schlepping. The challenge becomes safe-keeping and management of your purchased media and I think there are opportunities here for much home hierarchical storage management systems.

    On the TV is dead long live TV item: It looks like 2009 will see a genuine step down in US TV usage.

  • Our twins can’t yet destroy DVDs (at least, unless left unsupervised for long enough for Jaelle to tummy-crawl her way around the living room) but there are plenty of other issues with DVDs.

    1) Every DVD player I own (except the XBox 360) has at some point refused to play a brand new DVD. Currently, our 360 is our “DVD player of last resort”. (And in another great example of Microsoft user interface design, I love how the control bar appears over its subtitles.) The PS/2 used to be, but rejected a few recently. I’d say we have serious trouble playing about 25% of our Netflix rentals.

    2) I can’t find a DVD I want to watch half the time. DVDs get separated from their cases with frightening regularity, and individual volumes from their boxed sets, etc.

    Digital is obviously not a panacea for this, but it’s at least a huge amount less bad. A Single 640GB hard disk can hold, conservatively, 200 DVDs worth of 480p video.

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