Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hi-Def Clarity

Galley Friend and Early Adopter S.B. is worked up over this less-than-lucid piece in USA Today:

According to USA Today's Michelle Kessler, "Problems with high-definition DVD players are dragging down the entire high-end television market." Intrigued, but skeptical, I took a look at the piece. I was so confused at the end of it that my head kind of hurts now . . .

The analysis starts by showing that high def DVD players are selling more weakly than expected; instead of 4.5 million units being sold, only 1.5 million have sold. None of this is particularly surprising since, a.) consumers are wary about investing many hundreds of dollars in a player when either HD-DVD or Blu Ray will obsolete in two or three years, and b.) the Blu-Ray's primary inroad, the PS3, has yet to hit the shelves (and when it does, it will do so with far less units than originally anticipated). OK, fine, I'm with her so far.

But then comes this headscratcher: "The problems have been brewing for years. They're starting to have a financial impact now since players are finally in stores. And they're affecting:

* Programming. Since high-definition TVs and players aren't yet mainstream, content for them remains limited. On TV, HD is generally limited to sports, news, prime-time shows and premium channels such as HBO. Only about 100 HD DVD and 50 Blu-Ray DVD titles are out."

To which I responded with a resounding 'Huh? What does one have to do with the other?' What does the number of HD/Blu Ray DVDs have to do with the programming options? Furthermore, people have been buying HDTV sets for the last couple of years before next gen DVD players had even been released, let alone become widely available/affordable. How could it possibly make sense that a wider variety of HD movie-watching options would hamper the growth of the market? People may be confused about which next gen DVD player to buy, but I don't know why the new options would deter the purchase of a television itself, since whichever format wins will work with any HDTV.

Kessler finally gets to the point at the end when she says that 60% of HDTVs are bought by sports fans, and that only 1 in 5 HDTVs is sold with a corresponding DVD player--"Presumably a must-have for a movie fan." But I say: poppycock. I'm about as big a movie fan as there is, and if you have a decent progressive scan DVD player to go along with your HDTV (especially if it's a model featuring 1080p) you're just fine for now without an HD DVD/Blu Ray player. We're not talking about audio cassettes vs. CDs, here. The difference in picture isn't big enough to justify the outrageous current cost. In a few years, Blu Ray or HD DVD will probably become the standard, especially since they're both backward compatible, but at this point the cost vs. the benefit is pretty small.

Furthermore, the piece's overarching point that HDTV sales are off is clearly contradicted by the chart included with the piece. I see a pretty steady 45 degree climb between 2003 and the end of 2006 (1.2 million HD homes to a projected 9.4 million HD homes). Once again, I don't doubt that next gen DVD sales are off; you'd be a sucker to buy one before the dust settles (never forget Betamax!). That being said, nothing at all suggests that the lack of a legit high def DVD format is slowing growth in the market, because the growth of the market isn't slowing! Yeesh. Kind of shoddy story.

No comments: