In the past, I've always felt that Blu-ray would win the high-def format war. After that, I wasn't necessarily sure what the future would hold for the format.
Would it be the success DVD was? Would it flop worse than LaserDisc? Would it cater to a slightly more advanced crowd but never reach the mainstream? Would it be a downright loser?
For a while, I decided to hold off from making any judgements until I could see how the Blu-ray group handled its victory. And while it has only been a relatively short amount of time since that win, the end is already in sight and the format has no hope of survival.
As James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research explained to me this week on my Digital Home podcast, Blu-ray isn't quite the shining light on the mountain that some believe it is. Instead, it's a vulnerable product that has considerable work to do before Sony can even think it will stack up to the DVD.
And while all of McQuivey's logic was well-founded and well-researched, I couldn't help but take it a step further and use it as the backbone for my prediction--Blu-ray will die as a forgotten warrior in the long and arduous battle of media formats.
Reason 1: No flexibility
First and foremost, Blu-ray is not flexible, nor is it portable. Doesn't sound like a big problem? Think again. According to McQuivey, the "DVD is extremely usable and you can take that disc and play it in your car, at a friend's house; you can take that DVD and after you're done with it, you can give it to a friend and they can play it at their house."
"Blu-ray players won't be like that for quite some time," he continued. "Because there just won't be nearly enough Blu-ray players in the home to justify even doing something like that."
Realizing that people want to take media and bring it wherever they go, how can we possibly justify saying that Blu-ray will win or even make a dent in the DVD market? McQuivey's point is not only a good one, but it reflects one key point that some have missed--media formats go far beyond the idea that we only care about viewing what's on them. Instead, we are looking for ease of use, availability, and portability--three facets that Blu-ray doesn't provide and probably won't for quite some time.
Reason 2: The issue of looks
HD has always been pretty and everyone knows that an additional 600 lines of resolution are important, but let's be honest--can anyone truly say that the difference in quality between DVDs and Blu-ray is so great that the thought of using that old format is unbearable? Of course not.
McQuivey explained to me that, "the average person can't tell the difference between DVD quality and HD content...so a DVD looks pretty good for most people, especially when they use a DVD upconverter."
I've said it once and I'll say it again--the difference in quality between DVDs and Blu-ray is not nearly great enough to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a player. And as I'm not alone in that assertion, what will that do to the idea of portability that I mentioned above? If people are unwilling to buy Blu-ray players and portability is a key factor in DVD's success, how can anyone possibly say Blu-ray will be a similar success?
Reason 3: Cost, cost, cost
The price of Blu-ray players is simply too high for people to even want them. Why would someone who can't bring media wherever they would like and cannot tell the difference in quality actually waste time spending hundreds of dollars on a player?
At this point, pure logic should come into the discussion. To put it succinctly--Blu-ray will only do well if players are readily available, and players will be readily available if prices are lower. In order for prices to be lower, production costs will need to come down, and so far, production costs are still quite high. And all this is irrespective of the other issues already plaguing the device. Do you see what I'm getting at here? There's trouble in paradise.
Reason 4: The clock is ticking
Right now, Blu-ray is relatively safe because broadband speeds aren't nearly where they should be and HD media downloads are plagued by many of the same issues affecting Blu-ray. But that won't be true for too much longer.
As McQuivey pointed out, HD media downloads probably won't be too big for at least another five years, which means Blu-ray must make a huge splash in that time or face total annihilation. Of course, with crazy player prices and a slew of issues it needs to confront before then, what are the chances of anything like that happening?
The end is near for Blu-ray and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Say what you will, but Toshiba should be ecstatic that it didn't get caught in the middle of this quagmire and got out when it did.
But if you don't believe me, take McQuivey's take on it: "On many levels, Toshiba should be glad it lost (the high-def format war)."