HD-DVD versus Blu-ray

<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:HD-DVD.svg&#8221;x.jpgWell, the dinosaurs are at at it again. This time it’s a consortium of mega companies lead by Toshiba versus a consortium of companies lead by Sony duking it out for who will win for setting the standard for how HD is consumed on disc. Why do I call them dinosaurs you wonder? Because they’re huge, massively powerful beasts with relatively small brains.

OK, that’s kind of harsh. But the comment reflects my continued frustration of how these large companies seem to be focused purely on maximizing monetization of their platforms and technology versus trying to be customer centric. The NY Times covered the dinosaur’s latest battle. A few excerpts:

[Microsoft] decided last September to abandon their neutral stance and to support Toshiba and its HD-DVD standard over the Blu-ray format led by Sony, the unexpected change of heart reverberated through the technology industry. Suddenly, Toshiba’s seemingly quixotic defense of its format had new life. Intel joined Microsoft in backing HD-DVD. Hewlett-Packard withdrew its exclusive support of Blu-ray. This month, another member of the Blu-ray camp, LG Electronics, hedged its bets, too, signing a deal to license Toshiba’s technology.

A DECADE ago, a prospective death match between competing first-generation DVD players was averted when Sony and Philips agreed to back down and join the Toshiba/Warner Brothers side, in exchange for a share of royalties that all DVD player producers pay to the format’s creator. Now, no truce seems near, as neither side wants to settle for a small piece of what could be a big electronics success. So consumers and retailers may be in for a reprise of the confusing VHS-Betamax showdown of the early 1980’s, with Toshiba replacing Matsushita as Sony’s adversary.

“Both sides are digging in their heels and stupidity has prevailed,” said Joe McGuire, the chief executive of Tweeter, a high-end electronics chain. Mr. McGuire called the failure of the two camps to agree on a single format “criminal” and said he would have a hard time advising consumers. “The answer to which is better is: ‘We don’t know,’ ” he said. “I’m tempted not to sell anyone these machines.”

How could these companies be more customer centric? First of all, for god sakes get together and agree on a standard for HD DVD. Next, focus on allowing people to own their content. Steve Jobs totally got this right for music downloads from the iTunes Music Store. If you buy a download from Apple, you own it. It doesn’t magically expire after three uses or whatever complications the industry would prefer to maximize profits. Finally, acknowledge people want to use their content for many different uses. If I own it, I should be able to use it any way I want–watch it on my computer, on my TV, on my digital device, back it up and not have to pay special surcharges for the right to do this.

That said, all this thrash over HD disc standards completely misses on-demand. I’m pretty convinced that by 2010, people will be downloading HD to some home entertainment unit. I don’t believe that HD discs will ever see the same market domination the standard DVD format enjoys today. People’s lives are too multifaceted to be addressed by a single “standard”. The days of everyone watching three major networks along with all those incredibly non targeted commercials are gone. People now want it their way. While the dinosaurs are battling it out, the smaller players like Apple, Netflix and perhaps TiVo will lead a revolution in convenience–get it when you want and consume it where you want.

Apple’s Front Row application is it’s first baby step in the direction of creating a much rumored personal video recorder (PVR). Personally, I think they’ll offer a HD streaming version of Airport Express first–download to your Mac then stream to your HDTV. Netflix has been working on digital downloads but has been greatly slowed by the dinosaurs. TiVo offers their TiVoToGo service which allows you to take your recorded programs with you on your portable computer. This is definitely cool.

But TiVo has been lagging of late. They still don’t have an HD version of their PRV. Also, I think the program guide subscription model isn’t sustainable. $12 a month to get program information? I can get that for free on Yahoo. Also, with TiVo, I have to do all the work to find good programs to watch. Their personalization really sucks. As a result, I recently canceled my TiVo subscription and gave away my recorder. Low switching costs drove me to something more convenient. I now consume nearly all my video content from Netflix. It’s selection is great, price is reasonable and community and personalization features helpful to discover new content. But the thresholding and broken discs weigh more and more on me every month. I hope they can continue pushing in the digital download direction. That’s they only way they’ll survive.

On demand is the future IMO.


One Comment on “HD-DVD versus Blu-ray”

  1. Nat Hillary says:

    The streaming of personalized content may be closer than you think! A work colleage has recently started using a Slingbox (http://www.slingmedia.com/) to access the content of his PVR across the web. He was able to watch American Idol live from Germany! Not HD yet, but I think that it’s telling that he opts not to travel with his portable DVD player now.

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