Tuesday, March 07, 2006

HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray over the long term

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I've been following the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray debate recently:

My personal interest is for computer based burners to be able to burn high density disks in either format. Imagine how nice it would be to back up 20+ GB of data onto only a few disks. I'm fairly agnostic in the debate. My interest is to be able to quickly and cheaply back up data from my PC onto a very high density DVD disk or two, but not five, six or seven.

There's an interesting article on the subject at CNET http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-6449_7-6446304.html?tag=nl.e497.

In the debate about which will win, I keep thinking that the cheaper and more adaptable technology always prevails. As a consumer, I almost never buy the brand new expensive technology, but usually wait for the second or even third generation before buying it. It's unfortunate, but I'm still waiting to buy either a Plasma flat screen or an LCD flat screen. I'm just too frugal to jump right in and pay the early adopter premium.

At the moment, HD-DVD seems to be cheaper. It doesn't offer as much storage and may not be as technologically elegant, but what happens when there's an installed base of several million players compared to several hundred thousand blu-ray? If you were pressing a DVD, who would you sell it to?

The ultimate point of debate - besides price - seems to be on output resolution. The best, right now is 1080p. That's 1,080 lines per image drawn progressively. Unfortunately, only some of the high end DVD equipment can show 1080p. Most HD sets show 720p or 1080i. The i means that it interleaves drawing of the lines, so on the first past odd lines are drawn and on the second set even lines are drawn (or vice versa).

I think the resolution issue draws out two questions:

a. How many people actually have 1080p equipment - and even know they have it - I think few - mostly high end adopters.
b. Whether HD-DVD will be able to adapt and release 1080p quality resolution in future revisions of it's product -- they claim they will.

The more I think of it, the debate seems to be one between the connoisseurs and the masses. The connoisseurs are early adopters. They gladly pay a premium to buy something new and unique. There knowledge and familiarity of video and multimedia is so profound and their equipment so powerful (expensive) that they perceive a significance difference and value from the more expensive technology. While the lowly masses buy and use the less expensive technology and rarely perceive the difference. This is the same mentality the encourages people to buy luxury goods because you deserve it (read you are special and unique).

I have a feeling HD-DVD will win. It will sell cheaply and broadly -- if Toshiba can inexpensively license the manufacturing rights to other manufacturers besides itself -- AND -- most importantly -- it does not charge excessive royalties. It will eventually be upgraded and will dominate the market. Blu-ray will be the technology of the consumer product elite until the elite can no longer buy videos.

Perhaps all this will be moot if the two technologies are blended together a la DVD-R and DVD+R.

Of course the entire debate may be moot if most homes don't end up buying HDTV sets over the next three years. HDTV doesn't become pervasive, then Blu-ray will win due to the narrow market dominated by the consumer product elite.

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