Yesterday I came across an article on the Audioholics website by Clint DeBoer entitled "10 Reasons Why High Definition DVD Formats Have Already Failed". I read the article with an open mind and while I didn't agree with everything said in it, I found myself agreeing with quite a lot of it.
- Nobody likes false starts
HD DVD at 720p/1080i video modes just didn't inspire people. Companies rushed to get technology out of the door with the HD label and damaged both their reputations and customer confidence in the technology as a whole.
False starts seem to be becoming the norm in technology circles - just take a look at the amount of draft 11n WiFi gear that's already flooding onto the market. Companies are making short-sighted business decisions in the hope that it will give them a temporary advantage over the competition at the expense of the customer.
- Format wars don't sell players
When buying new technology, many people, especially early adopters, don't buy blind. They do their homework first. A lot of people are wary of format wars and the wise stay on the sidelines until a winner emerges. The format wars between the HD camps are not healthy competition where the customer wins, but instead are in-fighting between big corporations, with the customer stuck as piggy in the middle.
The real truth is that while there is technically little to distinguish between Blu-ray and HD DVD, there is only room in the market for one overall winner. There are going to be people who bought players that, in a year or so, will no be able to buy any more discs for them. That kind of thing damages the technology as a whole. While customers feel that they might be gambling their money on a format war, most are going to keep their wallets closed.
- HD DVD and Blu-ray are not quantum leaps in technology
Now we're starting to get to the core of the HD issue. CD and DVD killed the competition by being so much better, easier to use and more convenient than the technology they replaced. Compare a CD to a record and a DVD to a VHS tape and the differences are astronomical. However, compare DVD to HD DVD or Blu-ray and the differences seem less significant. More disc space ... yawn ...
Even the promise of higher definition comes at a great price - HD hinges on too many other technology changes. The market base of people likely to replace their entire home theater system in order to get the best out of HD is likely to be small. Compare this to DVD, where people could go out, buy a player, hook it up to their existing systems and see the benefits instantly.
- Studios are conservative, greedy and unmotivated
They sure are conservative and unmotivated (I'll let you decide if they are greedy :-) ). The studios are onto a good thing with DVD and they don't want to mess with that market. They certainly don't want people to start wondering whether DVD is on the way out because again that's going to make buyers wary.
- PS3 cannot save the world
There's a massive pressure being put onto the PS3 by the HD industry to make HD mainstream. I have to say that this feels a lot like wishful thinking to me. The PS3 is going to be first and foremost a gaming platform, not an entertainment system. Given the investment that people are going to make in a new PS3, I can see many buyers being reluctant to see it tied up as a entertainment platform rather than a gaming platform.
The other drawback with the PS3 is the two versions - the lack of an HDMI output in the 20GB model is likely to cause problems with restricted output resolution on Blu-ray video.
There are some other issues that HD DVD/Blu-ray has to face. One of the biggest is cost. Paying $30-35 for an HD title is a lot when compared to DVD titles that retail for $15. Enthusiasts will have built up a substantial DVD library, and the idea of having to upgrade that to HD is going to raise issues of cost. Even if there are enthusiasts out there with $100 bills falling out of their pockets ready and willing to upgrade their DVD library to HD, they are not going to find anyone to take their money - the current offering of HD titles is pathetic.
The bottom line is that I agree with DeBoer - it looks more and more unlikely that HD will become a mainstream technology, and is likely to have to scratch out an existence in a niche market for years to come.