During the first year of the HD-DVD and Blu-ray war, it was not uncommon to hear that people were waiting for the dust to settle. In the meantime, people would stick with DVD, which one of my friend’s has called “The Look and Sound of Good Enough.” Although my friend’s frustration is with the mercurial nature of the high-def world, it’s not uncommon to hear people claim that upsampled DVDs are “almost as good” as these new high-def formats. These claims typically come from people who don’t own Blu-ray or HD-DVD players. The simple fact is that today’s HD-DVDs and Blu-ray discs offer a substantial improvement over their DVD counterparts. Just check out these actual screenshots of 1080p movies:
You don’t even need A/B comparisons to see how sharp these images are in comparison to DVD.
Like the “Microsoft Office Dilemma,” the problem is that DVD offers “good enough” quality for many users. The studios and hardware manufacturers will all lose unless they can generate consumer demand for the new hardware and software. In contrast to the DVD-Audio and SACD battle, where the benefit of the new technology required ultra-high-end equipment (i.e. speakers, amplifier, etc.), or the battle between Vizio and traditional LCD TV manufacturers, the benefits of high-definition video are more obvious with today’s high-resolution large panel displays. With 1080p LCD TV’s starting below $1k and 65” being the new 32”, it no longer takes a dot com success story to be someone with enough money to buy a TV capable of benefiting from the new high-definition discs.
Before August 20, unless you were actually an owner of HD-DVD or Blu-ray, there just wasn’t any mainstream interest in the high-definition video format battle. When HD-DVD first launched, the focus was on the impending threat of Blu-ray and the 90-second boot time. When the first Blu-ray player finally arrived, design flaws and poorly encoded discs meant similarly long boot times and blurry images. Neither format had a particularly strong start.
Things are different now. Today’s HD-DVD players offer excellent value and performance while the PlayStation3 has quickly become of the best Blu-ray players (and CD and DVD players for that matter) and today’s high-bitrate MPEG-4 AVC encoded movies offer amazing picture quality. Importantly, all of this increased attention is coming at a time when 1080p televisions are more popular; in September 2006, 49% of new TV’s sold were 1080p.
With Paramount’s announcement, the press buzz around the high-definition battle has been renewed. This is a reboot for the HD-DVD and Blu-ray, but more consumers actually care about the battle given cheaper players and cheaper 1080p TVs. If the industry wanted an opportunity to recruit more consumers to the high-definition world, they couldn’t have asked for a better set of circumstances. Controversy always delivers interest.