Posted April 17 2007 - 05:40 AM
| I have an HD-DVD player and have purchased about 25 movies. I am firmly in the "HD discs will never be more than a niche market" camp. |
I disagree. "Never" is a long time and absolute statements on this kind of thing rarely hold up over time.
90% of people were satisifed with the quality of ordinary TV, too. The general public was not clamoring for a new TV standard. But given
a new standard, most people who have a choice prefer the best quality. There aren't a lot of HDTV owners watching the standard-def feeds of their favorite networks. They like the quality of HD and they're getting used to it. (I have a nephew who is a sports nut, but not a big videophile or movie guy, and an aunt who is neither. Both bought HD sets in the last year - he a 46" DLP, she a 42" LCD - because they needed new TVs and figured they might as well upgrade. Both of them then signed up for the local CableCo's HD service because they had the hardware. Now they say they find it hard to watch TV at other people's houses because they're so used to HD.
My aunt has already tried to rent an HD-DVD to watch on her new set, not knowing that she'd need a special hi-def player. When I told her there were two kinds of these and how much they cost she said, "Well, I'll wait a couple of years. You let me know when the price comes down and tell me what to buy." (I helped her pick out the TV and calibrated it with DVE the night it was delivered.)
Neither of my relatives has an extensive collection of DVDs. They mostly rent movies, my nephew from Netflix, my aunt (who doesn't even own a computer) from the local brick & mortar. They don't have to worry about "replacing" titles or double-dipping. When there's a cheap enough player that will let them rent hi-def DVDs they'll do it in a heartbeat because they've seen the advantage of HD (we've all been talking about how incredible The Discovery Channel's Planet Earth
has been) and they want more of it - but not until the price is right.
I think their experience is going to be shared by millions of others as HD sets and services continue to gain market share.
As for the LD comparison - sorry, apples and oranges again. LD was not a new and improved alternative to VHS. It as an original competitor of VHS and Beta, launched commercially at about the same time and vying to be the first big in-home movie watching system. It flopped by comparison for a host of reasons, only one of which has a direct analog in the hi-def/standard DVD situation. Three of the main ones?
1) LD was playback only. Videotape not only both played and recorded, but it was also sold (originally) as a replacement for the family movie camera, projector and screen. (And film processing store.) The ability to play movies was an added bonus
. Why buy a dedicated movie watching system when you could own a multi-purpose system for much less money?
2) LD's superiority wasn't always visible on the equipment commonly in use. In the late 70s and early 80s big screen TVs (meaning anything over 30") were still really in their infancy. On a typical, maladjusted 13" to 27" set, LD simply didn't look that
much better - not enough to justify the price (for films as well as player) so it never got beyond the niche. This is the one real similarity betwen LD and hi-def DVD, but as we've seen, that's changing. (This is also one of the reasons why DVD succeeded where LD failed. By 1997 people already had
a home movie and TV-time-shifting recording format, so they didn't mind added a high-quality playback only system to supplement what they already had. This is why the "DVD will never take off until it can record" meme was such nonsense. But the thing that probably most helped DVD in the early years was the huge increase in the installed base of big screen TVs - largely driven by sports - in the years in between the launch of VHS/LD/Beta and the launch of DVD. Suddenly people had screens where they really could
see the difference, and could appreciate OAR even with the letterboxing bars - which is why widescreen VHS became a big item right at the end of the format.)
3) And this can't be emphasized enough - price. LD was very expensive, digital surround sound more so (I paid over a grand for my first "AC-3" receiver and that was considered low end in those days), and discs sets were insanely priced. And because LD never became a mass-market item for the reasons mentioned above, the prices stayed
relatively high throughout the format's life because no one ever acheived the economies of scale that follow large scale success. Hi-def DVD has a much clearer path to a growing market, the automatic and inevitable replacement of SD TVs with HD versions just through sheer attrition, accelerated by the DTV cut-over in 2009, and therefore a much better ability to bring down prices while remaining profitable. HDTV has already acheived several times the market penetration that LD did after many years on the market. In fact, BD and HD-DVD are probably already well ahead of LD a couple of years after that format was introduced. How easy was it to find a store that sold or rented LDs near where you lived back in the day?
I think there is every chance that a hi-def DVD format could break out of niche status within 5 years, but only if one of the formats fades or the format war disappears as a practical matter because combo drives and/or combo discs become affordable and easy to find, and the Blu Ray/HD-DVD choice becomes moot.