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Why Blu-ray will be the next DVD

Ben Drawbaugh

Everyone loves a fight, and no sooner was the HD movie format war over, many analyst and pundits were setting up Blu-ray's next battles. We love to watch a fight as much as the next person -- more like watching a train wreck really -- but some of the craziness just has to stop. Many give consumers too much credit, and even worse are ignoring the facts. Blu-ray has the best chance to replace DVD, and we're going to tell you why. There is no arguing that DVD currently rules the roost, but it won't forever and the battle to overtake DVD is being fought on two main fronts.

The future without shiny round discs

You'd have a hard time finding someone who wouldn't concede that there will be a day in the future when physical media is no more, but it's hard to find two people who agree on when. The humorous part is that we've been waiting on this since before the World Wide Web was a twinkle in Sir Tim Berners-Lee's eye. We've had data communications in our homes for years before the internet became widespread, and the companies that control the pipes running into our homes have been trying to get a piece of the home media pie before DVD was battling DIVX. The fact is that VOD is far more successful than any internet delivery method and still isn't nearly as successful as many have predicted. You don't have to look very far to find an analyst criticizing the VOD industry for its lackluster growth. The scary part is that VOD will almost always have the advantage over internet delivery, because the cable co's not only own the pipes running into our homes, but some are part of large companies that own the bulk of the content -- like Warner Brothers and Time Warner Cable.


Despite this advantage, the providers who use the internet to deliver its content still have a chance, but none have gotten any traction -- yet. No one seems to be able to figure out a balance between what consumers want and what the studios are willing to give. So we end up with $5 rentals, with 24 hour limits, a measly 100 HD movie selection, and having our content locked on a box that sits on the top of our TV. The mass public is accustomed to the freedoms and security that come with a physical medium, and have a hard time paying what is perceived as more, to get less. The convenience alone of renting from the comfort of our couch, hasn't been enough to overcome the satisfaction of owning little shiny disc.

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The real red vs blue
Not sure if anyone could've ever predicted that DVD would be as successful as it has been, and when a format dominates the way DVD has, it's hard to imagine a world without it. People love to point out that Americans are happy with DVD and don't appreciate the marginal improvement of Blu-ray. These people give joe six pack too much credit. We're talking about the same people who buy so many upconverting DVD players, that its nearly impossible to buy a DVD player that doesn't upconvert. This is despite the fact that every HDTV sold has an upconverter built in that works as well -- if not better -- than most of the DVD upconverters on the market. Most flock to LCD TVs despite the fact that they don't compare to plasmas in contrast or color, just because they feature 1080p. The problem of course is that they are viewing their 42-inch 1080p LCD form 10 feet away, which is so far, no human can even perceive the difference in resolution. Do they care that the 1080p TV cost $400 more than the 720p plasma? No, they bought it because they had to have 1080p. Many buy TVs after looking at the fact tag, and never once think to actually look at the TV. The same people that pay $99 for an HDMI cable and throw away the component cable that was in the box. They spend $200 on an HDMI switch so both their upconverting DVD player, over-compressed cable, and Xbox 360 can all be connected via HDMI. Do they ever test out the 3 unused component inputs to see if there is noticeable improvement? No, they don't, 'cause everyone knows digital is always better than analog.

The point is that people will spend more if they believe there is a difference, regardless of whether they can actually see the difference. They won't spend four times more, but they will spend more.

So while we all wait for instant access to whatever we want, whenever we want, we hold on to the shiny little disc that we know is better, even though we can't really tell it's better. We'll pay the extra $50 to $100 a player (eventually) and $5 to $10 more per disc, to get the most out of the 1080p HDTV we just bought. And we'll be happy while we do it, and with no regard to the technology analysts who predict that physical mediums are dead. The very same analyst who probably predicted HDTV would never take off.

But wait, what about DVD-A, SACD, and Laserdisc?
Yeah, what about 'em? The success of HDTVs are proof that picture quality is more important than audio quality and if you don't think so, think about this. The majority of our readers that said they owned HD DVD or Blu-ray, siad they were still using Toslink. We'd be willing to wager that 0 percent of our readers who own HD DVD or Blu-ray are still using S-Video. There are just far more people with a nice HDTV, but a super cheap HTIB -- or use the speakers in the TV -- than there are without a TV and a set of $5,000 speakers. Seriously, most people actually believe Bose is "the most respected name in sound."

Oh, and Laserdisc. Well, just because your parents didn't have one when you were growing up, doesn't mean it wasn't successful. Laserdisc players were sold in the US for twenty years, and every major studio released content on the format. Although it was never as popular as VHS, it was successful. But Blu-ray has a few big advantages over LD. For starters, LD couldn't play VHS tapes the way a Blu-ray player can play DVDs. Second, LD players were far more expensive than even the current Blu-ray players -- adjust for inflation and you're really talking some money. And despite the expense, enough people bought the players and discs to keep the format around until DVD completely replaced it.

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