Sound Advice: HD DVD leaves Blu-ray in the dust

12 11 2007

Don Lindich, a national columnist and creator of the “Digital Made Easy” book series states, ” I enthusiastically recommend HD DVD because it’s a better product and a better proposition for consumers. Signs are showing it is going to trounce Blu-ray, and soon.”

“For those looking for a single sentence explaining why go with HD DVD: It’s a better thought-out, more solid product than Blu-ray, it is half the price, and picture and sound quality are identical. At less than $200 including seven or more movies, HD DVD players are a stunning value. Why pay twice the money when Blu-ray has serious issues and the movies look and sound the same?”

“I smile when I see people buying HD DVD players based on bargain pricing, because they are unknowingly getting the Ferrari as well. Despite its purported superiority and much higher cost, Blu-ray is the emperor with no clothes. HD DVD has been superior since day one.”

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The State of Blu-ray

9 11 2007

Gizmodo on November 8 reveals the root of Blu-ray’s problem: the format did not have a finished specification when devices went into production. Instead, there were two or three “profiles,” outlined in the chart below. The article explains and clarifies the three BD profiles at length – including attributes and manufacturers for each profile.

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Blu-ray Profile 1.1 makes existing players obsolete?

6 11 2007

October 31, 2007 was the official end of the “grace period” for Blu-ray manufacturers, after which all players released must comply with the latest standard–Blu-ray Profile 1.1 (also known as Final Standard Profile and BD-Video Profile 1.1). Of course, that doesn’t mean Profile 1.0 Blu-ray players still can’t be sold, and if you walk into your local electronics store over the next few months, you’re likely to see both Profile 1.0 and Profile 1.1 Blu-ray players on the shelf. So what’s the big difference between Profile 1.0 and Profile 1.1?

Profile 1.0 vs. 1.1

There are several different hardware requirements (see the chart below), but it basically boils down to picture-in-picture functionality. All Blu-ray players up until this point have been Profile 1.0 and have lacked the secondary video and audio decoders necessary to play a smaller video in the corner while also playing the main high-def movie in the background. With the notable exception of the PlayStation 3, Profile 1.0 players cannot be upgraded via firmware to become Profile 1.1 players.

Because Profile 1.0 players lacked this functionality, movie studios have understandably not included picture-in-picture functionality on any current Blu-ray disc. According to High-Def Digest, Fox has announced that it will release its first Profile 1.1-enabled disc, Sunshine, in the first quarter of 2008. And as more Profile 1.1 players become available, we expect more Profile 1.1 discs to be released.

Profile 1.1 vs. 2.0

Despite Profile 1.1 also being known as Final Standard Profile, there’s actually still another Blu-ray specification, Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live. The major difference between Profiles 1.1 and 2.0 is that Profile 2.0 requires that the player has an Internet connection. Although some current Blu-ray players have an Ethernet port, these are strictly for firmware updates and can’t be used to access downloadable content.

Again, since Internet connectivity isn’t a mandatory feature on current Blu-ray players, there are currently no Internet-enabled Blu-ray discs and none have been announced for the future. Internet connectivity could be used to download additional movie content, download trailers, or enable purchasing movie-related merchandise. Profile 2.0 also increases the mandatory local storage capacity to 1GB, which is presumably to accommodate downloaded content. Read the rest of this entry »





Microsoft responds to Blu-ray attacks

6 11 2007

In response to this week’s Blu-ray Disc Festival in Los Angeles, Kevin Collins, director in the Microsoft Consumer Media Technology Group, defended the company’s backing of the next-generation HD DVD format.

“The [Blu-ray] camp’s claims about Microsoft’s desire to have a format war are baseless,” Collins said. ”Microsoft has over 100 people working on HD DVD interactivity and we believe that HD DVD is the next-generation optical format.”

During a presentation to journalists and home theater enthusiasts at the Blu-ray Festival earlier in the week, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment worldwide president Mike Dunn intimated that the format war is being perpetuated by Microsoft in the hopes of confusing consumers so much they don’t support either format and ultimately buy their entertainment online. He didn’t mention the computer giant by name, but blasted “the orchestrated campaigns of confusion and anti-consumerism fueled by an 800-pound gorilla that would prefer to force us all into the practice of paying tolls for the right to exchange information and enjoy entertainment.”

Collins said Microsoft decided to join the HD DVD format two CES shows ago because the format’s replication costs were and still are the cheapest. He said there are only three plants in the world that can produce BD-50 discs, and those are all owned by Sony. He added that Microsoft’s predictions around costs and availability almost three years ago still hold true today.

Another feature that Microsoft liked was mandatory managed copy, which mandated that content authors allow customers to make legal copies of their HD DVD. At the time, Blu-Ray refused to do this, but has since changed their stance.

“AACS today is rapidly approaching the ‘final agreement’ that will start to make this available for customers, though I do not have a firm timeline on this,” Collins said. “The key fact is that Microsoft believed that a next-generation format should be ‘consumer friendly’ and at the time of the decision, only HD DVD supported this.”

Collins also said the interactive nature of HD DVD would play a big role in the format, since just having high-definition video was not going to be enough to convince customers to upgrade from DVD.

“HD DVD offers compelling features by mandating that there are three key hardware components (secondary video decoder, memory and networking),” Collins said. “These offer a lowest common denominator that allows studios like Warner Bros. to produce a title like 300 that has features that are not in the Blu-ray version.”

300 HD DVD exclusives include a strategy game, the ability to view and choose from the wallpapers and ring tones via the cell phone, picture-in-picture for the duration of the movie and the ability to have a community experience where users can share their favorite clips with other 300 HD DVD owners and rate those scenes.

Collins said Microsoft did not and will not bundle the HD DVD drive in Xbox 360 because the company believes that gamers are first and foremost gamers.

“If you look historically at the attach rates (i.e. the number of DVDs purchased per DVD player) you will see that game consoles have a single-digit attach rate, while dedicated DVD players have an attach rate in the mid-20s,” said Collins. ”Microsoft knew if we put in an HD DVD drive that we would have to raise costs and disenfranchise our customers (that are primarily gamers) as the unit would become too expensive.”

Collins said price has proven out in the game console business, as Wii is outselling both Xbox 360 and PS3, primarily due to price.

“The PS3 has yet to even come close to the sales estimates that Sony was telling everyone last year at this time,” said Collins. “If bundling an HD optical drive in a game console is such a smart idea, then why is the PS3 so far behind on sales targets?

“Another fact to look at is the amount of Xbox 360 HD DVD drives sold, compared to all Blu-Ray dedicated players. As of the latest NPD data, the Xbox HD DVD drive has outsold all combind Blu-Ray dedicated players by a substantial factor. While the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive is the best selling accessory over $100 for ALL game consoles, it only represents as single digit attach rate to Xbox 360.

“This proves the initial point that primarily, gamers are gamers, while there is a small percentage that also want to watch movies on it like they would a dedicated player.”

Microsoft Xbox research has shown that Xbox gamers spend more than 200 hours playing a game versus less than eight hours watching a movie on their consoles. Since customers can only do one thing on a game console at a time, they are either playing games or potentially watching movies.

“If you look at the introduction of the PSP, what was the biggest software sales for the PSP when it launched? It was UMD,” said Collins. “Who sells UMD discs today? Sony. Why? Because once there was compelling games for the PSP, consumers spent their time playing games on the device, the primary reason it was purchased in the first place.

“We believe that the PS3 will follow the same course and that this holiday, when compelling games come out, PS3 customers will be drawn to be playing more games. In fact, if you look at the recent press releases, execs in Hollywood have attributed the declining box office revenues to the “Halo effect,” where customers are staying at home playing Halo 3 instead of coming to the movie theater.

“Another proof point in this is the attach rate for Blu-Ray versus HD DVD. Including the PS3, Blu-ray has an attach rate slightly above one-to-one whereas HD DVD has an attach rate just below four-to-one. We believe that will improve for HD DVD with cheaper price points (such as the $169 HD DVD player at Sears for Black Friday) and more compelling games coming out for PS3 this holiday.”





Universal confirms “no plans to support Blu-ray”

5 11 2007

Interview: Ken Graffeo from Universal to talk next gen format war

Credits: Pocket-Lint.co.uk

As the next generation format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD continues to rumble on, Pocket-lint sat down over email with Ken Graffeo, excutive vice president, HD DVD Strategic Marketing for Universal, the only studio to singularly back Toshiba’s HD DVD format from the start.

Is HD DVD going to win over Blu-ray? What does the future hold? How does the company feel about Paramount and Dreamworks coming on board? And will it ever release Blu-ray movies?

Q: No matter how it’s spun, the format war isn’t good for the consumer, looking back, what do you think Sony and Toshiba should have done differently?

A: Extensive efforts were made to find a solution in the DVD Forum and avoid the situation we see today, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. The DVD Forum chose the HD DVD specification and as a result, Sony and its partners decided to make a go of it with Blu-ray. Our focus now is providing the best high definition home entertainment experiences with greatest value proposition for consumers. At the end, the consumer is the real winner because prices on next-generation hardware have been dropping faster and more significantly than they did in the early days of DVD. This is actually hastening rather than slowing consumer adaption

Q: Do you see a time when Universal will release movies on both HD DVD and
Blu-ray?

A: We have no plans to support Blu-ray. We want to be able to market all the great things HD DVD can offer consumers. We couldn’t do this if we split our resources on two formats, hedged our bets and had to avoid over promoting features on one format so we wouldn’t undercut the other format. HD DVD allows us to provide the type of quality and truly next generation experiences we need to get consumers to migrate from DVD.

Q: With the PS3 price cut meaning the console is now much more affordable, and one of the cheapest Blu-ray players on the market, how do you think this will affect Blu-ray adoption compared to HD DVD?

A: The PS3 is a gaming system first – even Sony will tell you this, and we believe consumers use gaming consoles to play games. Studies show that 70% of gamers don’t even know that their console has a DVD playback option. What’s important is that HD DVD owns the lead in dedicated CE player sales and maintains a 4:1 software attach rate over Blu-ray, meaning people are purchasing four times more HD DVD titles per HD DVD player than Blu-ray. Standalone players for HD DVD will be as low as $199 this holiday shopping season – maintaining HD DVD’s clear cost advantage. The PS3 simply hasn’t been the gamer changer Sony had hoped it would be.

Q: How much longer will Universal offer DVD versions of films for? Read the rest of this entry »





Say goodbye to Blockbuster movies…

2 11 2007

It looks like the bottom has finally fallen out of Blockbuster. After numerous failed attempts at attracting new customers, the company is finally spiraling out of control.

Sad as it is, the end is near for Blockbuster, and all that pressure it has been placing on Netflix will be lifted.

And in the end, Netflix will be left standing to fight another day.

Although Blockbuster tried everything it could to create a compelling reason for us to use the service, the company could not overcome its downfall. For years, it was hated by those people who saw it as a monolithic organization that enjoyed charging exorbitant late fees and had little or no care of what the customers wanted most. So when Netflix offered an entirely new service, the dynamics of the industry was inexorably changed, and Blockbuster was left playing catch up.

According to the company’s third-quarter results released Thursday, Blockbuster’s revenue slid 5.7 percent and the company harbored a net loss of $35 million. Worse, it has closed 526 stores in the past year, and the number of employees will be reduced to offset high overhead costs to the tune of $45 million. Blockbuster’s injured stock price continues to fall and was priced at $5.06 at Thursday’s close.

But if that’s not enough to signal defeat, Blockbuster Chairman Jim Keyes admitted that his company’s focus on Netflix was damaging and has decided to pull the plug on his demand for higher Total Access membership. Instead, he wants Blockbuster to focus on increasing overall membership.

Sorry, Jim, but I think you’re out of luck.

Much like the print media and retail stores refusing to change, Blockbuster has been a victim on an online company finding new and inventive ways of bringing a product to a customer. And due to its size and outdated corporate culture, there really is no salvation for Blockbuster at this point. Try as it might, the future of Blockbuster is bleak, at best.

Sure, the company still enjoys revenue that climb into the billions of dollars, but with an ever-increasing net loss and a public refusal to focus on Total Access–the area where Netflix continues to dominate–what is the impetus for us to jump on the Blockbuster bandwagon?

Simply put, Blockbuster is doomed. And while many of us have known it for a while now, it’s amazing to me that the chairman of the company admitted this in a not-so subtle way, as well.

For Blockbuster, there is currently no prospect for growth. Not only is it incapable of breaking the Netflix shell, the brick-and-mortar stores are failing, and there is little chance it will be able to capitalize on the future of movie rentals–downloading.

The way I see it, Blockbuster has two options: sell off the company as soon as possible or spend huge sums of cash on research and development and strategic partnerships with distribution companies to make downloading movies a viable alternative to Netflix.

But unfortunately, I simply don’t see this happening. I think Blockbuster will try to stay the course in the hopes it can find a way out. It won’t.

I’ll give it two years before this company goes under.





Sony will drop prices for its Blu-ray DVD player – Confirmed

2 11 2007

Sony Corp.’s Blu-ray DVD player will drop 20 percent or more in price this holiday season, the head of the company’s consumer electronics division said.The price for the high-definition movie player, which produces sharper images than traditional DVD machines, will decline to less than $400 from $499.99 now, Stan Glasgow, president of Sony Electronics, said Thursday. The Sony player and HD DVD, backed by Toshiba Corp., are vying to be the new home-entertainment standard.