One of the greatest challenges of building consumer electronics devices is dealing with that awkward timeframe between announcing new/next-generation products and ending the lifecycle of current ones. Sales tend to plummet and huge price incentives are thrown at customers to try to get the units off the shelves instead of in the dumpster. Naturally as a CE manufacturer you typically want to keep that window as short as possible, as it is otherwise harmful to pretty much in the foodchain, often including consumers.
I was, therefore, quite surprised to read an interview with a Samsung exec predicting the demise of the Blu-ray format within the next 5 years. I can’t see any possibly upside to this statement for Samsung, content makers, other device manufacturers, etc. As I’ve blogged about before, I’m still far from being sold on Blu-ray as a “winner”, but I guess that needs more context.
The NPD Group puts home DVD players at having penetrated 85% of US homes. That’s a win, unquestionably. It seems highly unlikely that Blu-ray will ever get to the same level. I’ve yet to hear/see any real positive word-of-mouth happening for the format, and the reasons seem similar as when I blogged about it last time. Here are my biggest reasons against mass-adoption of Blu-ray as a format:
- Without extremely big, high-quality screens, it’s challenging to see the “ooh, ahh” factor of 1080p over even an upconverted standard DVD.
- Upconverting DVD players are pretty much the standard already, and are available at extremely reasonable price points.
- Consumers are still enjoying their 720p (the current HD standard) content, so seeing something “marginally better” doesn’t make too much of an impact.
- Small content selection at a high price point.
Finally, I also believe we’re going to see an “iPodification” of video. In the 90s we were well on our way to replacing the CD as format, with SACD and DVD-Audio as possible follow-ups. Both offered vast improvements in sound quality that were pretty apparent with a decent stereo. Today, however, the average person is listening to music at worse-than-CD quality, on their iPods/iPhones, home stereos, Sonoses (or is that Sonii?), etc.
It seems fairly likely that the same pattern will occur with video, based on the combination of iPods, mobile video (cell phones), YouTube, Hulu, Amazon’s new service, and anything else that brings low-to-medium quality video to our eyes on a recurring basis. Don’t get me wrong, the big flat panels will still make it to the common living rooms, with glorious 5, 7, 11, or 2834-channel surround sound systems. But the time invested in these playback experiences is already in a questionable state (some say its on the decline, though there’s little real-world evidence as of yet), and all things being equal, seems unlikely to grow.
My hunch is the DVD as we know it today will be around for a long, long time, and the replacement format for it won’t involve physical media. TVs with built-in streaming capabilities are coming to store shelves (I’d probably avoid the first generation if I were you), and we’ll see a new generation of set-tops and gaming consoles with higher quality video when the time is right. Blu-ray definitely beat HD-DVD, but I still don’t believe it’ll ever be a dominant format for the masses.