I’ll admit, I’m losing a little bit of confidence in HD DVD and it makes me sad.
The Media Companies Are Getting It Wrong Again
Oh, don’t get me wrong: While I’ve made a substantial investment in HD DVD movies (probably a good $3000 worth) I’m fortunate enough to be able to "rebuy" those movies if the whole war goes the wrong way and head toward the Blu-ray camp. But at the same time, it’s one of those things where the Media & Entertainment industry had their chance to do things right after royally screwing up with the music & MP3 market (which they’ve essentially lost and will probably never regain again)…
…but instead of choosing the format where people had the opportunity to easily watch their movies in the manner in which they’d like to (with ‘managed copy’, a facility that makes it possible on HD DVD to legally copy the HD movie to home video servers, portable media players, laptops, etc.) the Media & Entertainment industry chose a media format on the basis of it having "STRONGER COPY PROTECTION", and really no other reason.
Let’s not kid ourselves: That’s the reason, plain and simple, that Disney & 20th Century Fox went with Blu-ray instead of HD DVD. They wanted stronger protections for their video.. and now they’re going to get their just desserts for it.
How? Well, I’ll write about that in a later blog, but like Obi-wan Kenobi once said:
"You can’t win Darth… If you strike be down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine…"
The Warner Announcement "Bomb"
HD DVD is essentially the geeks, PC manufacturers, & consumer’s choice for high definition video disc formats while Blu-ray was the Sony & Motion Picture Industry’s choice. I’ll concede that there are still a lot of things that could be done to pull HD DVD from the jaws of obsolescence against Blu-Ray but when you look down the gullet of a $500M monster bribe between Warner & Sony, you have to admit that things aren’t particularly looking good.
In fact, this announcement of "going all Blu-ray" was such a shocker that immediately after the press release, even I have to admit that something is amiss. Bill Gates’ keynote was really light on announcements: Unlike previous years, there was no major announcement around our game console business other than the typical "we’re winning" statements. The DVD Forum canceled their press conference abruptly and the HD DVD booth was devoid of any real content.
For the record, I have no information to verify any of this but after reading some of the rumor mill web sites, it indeed looked as if something major got scrapped/removed from both Microsoft’s & the HD DVD’s booths at the last minute, along with Billg’s keynote.
Reviewing Sony’s crummy track record
Part of me feels lousy about this because say what you want about Microsoft: Sony is without a doubt the bad guy when it comes to media formats and standards. Let’s not kid ourselves: With a history of being the creators of such closed market failures as:
- Memory Stick
- Universal Mini Disc
- Sony ATRAC Streaming Media format
(Bet you never heard of this one ‘eh? That’s because it was a DRM-enabled music format that was used only on Sony’s music site "Sony Connect" and no place else. I don’t know how they ever expected to be successful with something only they used.)
Additionally, Sony’s systems are notorious for being proprietary to the point of being too difficult to use. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Sony’s Vaio laptops and the beauty of their Bravia LCD TV line, but they’re so tied to Sony’s unique drivers and unique interfaces that their products are the quickest to fall into obsolescence. And let’s not forget the infamous Sony Audio CD Rootkit, the software installation that silently opened customers up security threats.
10 ways the DVD Forum failed in promoting HD DVD
But nonetheless, the DVD Forum hasn’t helped themselves in promoting HD DVD. At all.
- A horrible CES2008 booth
This might not seem like a big deal but regardless of whether or not Warner had announced that they’d jumped ship, HD DVD’s booth would have been sparsely attended because frankly, next to Blu-Ray’s booth, HD DVD’s was a colossal JOKE. It was clear that Disney and the other Blu-Ray partners has contributed a tremendous amount of monetary investment to demonstrate how purportedly exciting Blu-Ray’s capabilities were. (The running joke in the CES community was how ludicrous Blu-ray’s "interactive DVD" demonstrations were: One kiosk featured "Alien vs Predator vs You" where you watched the movie with a monster graphic overlay with a bitmapped "gun" and "knife" that you used to "hit" the Alien with. It was so stupid it would have been sad had it not been funny.)
Meanwhile, there was only ONE demonstration location in the HD DVD booth and that was the actual demo theatre. The result was that potential audiences felt that the HD DVD booth was like a morgue. Not even their representatives were very engaging and it seemed that they’d essentially given up. I talked to numerous pro-HD DVD attendees that said that it looked like the HD DVD folks were essentially packing it in and ‘just trying to get through CES’. Even I found myself more entertained by the Blu-Ray booth. Really pathetic planning, guys. You need a serious lesson in product marketing.
- No marketing behind 3X DVD
Did you know that you can burn HD DVD quality videos at 720p using traditional DVD burners and traditional SD DVD media?
Neither does most of the world. The DVD Forum has done virtually nothing to educate people about this really great ability. Instead, people are left asking the question: "How do I burn HD DVD discs? There aren’t any burners available." In reality, most people could burn HD DVD videos on standard DVD media using their existing hardware but you’d never know it because there’s been no advertising of this capability.
To this day, the only documentation I can find on this topic exists at:
- Where’s the HD DVD burners?
And speaking of burning HD DVDs… where the hell are the HD DVD burners?
That’s right. You’d think by now you’d be able to online to Fry’s or Amazon and pick up an internal HD DVD burner but after 2 years, there’s STILL no burners available on the market. In fact, the only production burner that’s readily available is in the $3200 Toshiba G45 Qosmio laptop. Are you kidding me? You have to buy a completely new laptop (albeit a really cool one)just to burn an HD DVD disc? Screw that.
Meanwhile, there’s a couple burners on display at CES, but none of them are available for purchase… not even from the Far East. How the hell do you expect people to use a format if they can’t burn discs?
I suspect that this was a strategic move on Toshiba’s part to prevent piracy but to be honest, that’s just stupid. People can’t buy a format if they don’t have drives. Period. End of story.
- Complete lack of PC players
I’ve gotten two new laptops from HP and Toshiba in the past two years an neither of them came with an HD DVD option.
Frankly, there’s been a complete lack of PC HD DVD drives. Are you kidding me? How can you NOT ship HD DVD drives with every PC that ships in the HD DVD alliance?!? Make the investment… take the hit… and get your "razors" out into the market for God’s sake.
A long time ago, a company called ioMega had the opportunity to become the replacement for 3.5" floppy drives with their ZIPdisk format. They had the form factor, they had the marketing name, and they had the "razors & razor blades" model. But instead of making the "razors" i.e. the ZIPdrives cheap enough to compete with floppies, they kept the price high and people didn’t buy the drives with their new OEM PCs. As a result, they never bought the "razor blades" i.e. the discs and ioMega drifted into obsolescence.
- Poor evangelism of 51GB triple-layer capacity
The one major ‘ding’ that HD DVD has always taken has been the fact that Blu-Ray as a format had a 50GB capacity. This of course is idiocy being that Blu-Ray discs and players are much more expensive just to provide this capacity and meanwhile HD movies NEVER consume more than 15GB, making 50GB capacities completely irrelevant.
That being said, all of this talk about Blu-Ray’s purported capacity superiority could have been nullified with the advancement of HD DVD’s triple layer technology providing 51GB per disc on the exact same HD DVD media being used today.
Yet, you’d never know it with the poor way it’s been evangelized or brought to market.
- Losing the Warner Bro contract
Yeah, this is the killer. Sony snuck in and bought Warner Bros business with $500M dollars to support Blu-Ray exclusively. That’s just sick.
The fact that this happened right under the DVD Forum’s nose, and that the DVD Forum didn’t recognize that losing either Universal or Warner would be catastrophic to their efforts, is inexcusable. Even if this whole move by Warner breaks existing contracts that they have with HD DVD and this all goes to court, the damage is done: Blu-Ray has momentum.
- Where’s managed copy?
HD DVD has always supposedly supported "Managed Copy", i.e. the ability to make a copy of a movie to a video server like a Windows Media Center… and yet, I’ve never seen it done. Not once.
Meanwhile, Sony is announcing that Blu-Ray discs will be able to make SD definition copies from specially created discs to PSP devices: A lesser version of what managed copy purports to provide for HD DVD and video servers.
What the hell? How did Sony become the promoter of ‘managed copy’ technology over HD DVD?
- Best Buy Blu-ray Sales Training
If you walk into a Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics store, and ask about High Definition movie playback, those ‘supposedly unbiased, uncommissioned’ sales reps sell Blu-ray technology. They NEVER even give HD DVD a second thought.
It would seem that the Best Buy folks are highly highly highly incented to pitch Blu-Ray and I’ve got a pretty good idea why. Based on things I’ve heard, I strongly suspect that Sony has a Best Buy sales force directed campaign to provide Best Buy floor sales employees with:
- Formal, in person Blu-Ray training. Most companies do some sort of retail training for Best Buy or Circuit City folks to get them excited about a technologies potential.
- Drastically discounted Blu-Ray players. Usually these are promotional offers to get a Blu-ray player in the hands of the sales people i.e. buying the business. The purchase is usually 25% of the cost of manufacturing, making a typical Blu-ray player $50 to a Best Buy employee.
- Free Blu-Ray movies to people that attend seminars. If you come to a seminar on Blu-ray… we’ll give you 5 free Blu-ray discs. Lord knows, I’m guilty of this one with regard to XBox 360 games.
- Online exams with further Sony-oriented incentives (like PSPs as prizes for passing online tests, etc.) This keeps the retail folks thinking "Blu-ray" even after the seminar.
- Spiffs, spiffs, spiffs. Spiffs are monetary incentives that retail sales people get for ‘pushing’ certain items that a store generally has overstock of. A spiff on say on overstocked Nvidia Video Card for example might be $15/unit so a sales person might ‘subtly’ push a customer to get that card over an ATI card.
I would have thought that there would have been a LOT (and I mean a LOT) of HD DVD drive giveaways or better yet, HD DVD drive bundles with the Xbox 360. Discounts… incentives… anything to get the drives into the hands of influential Xbox 360 owners. It seems like a completely natural fit. The attach rate for Xbox 360 games to consoles is an astounding 6.9 games per console, meaning people with Xbox’s have a lot of disposable income for impulse purchases… like movies!
And why is the Xbox 360 drive $179? That’s not a lot, but it’s not cheap either. In fact, instead of giving away 8 free movies at a licensing cost of $10 each, why not simply discount the drive to $99?
Oh, don’t get me wrong: I know why they’ve bundled the discs with the drives and I’m pretty sure that it has nothing to do with wanting to provide a good incentive to people to buy the HD DVD player. By bundling these videos with the drive:
- They can get contributions from the studios that cost them relatively little in actual commitment (they’re simply sacrificing movie sales they might otherwise not have had if HD DVD didn’t take off)
- They can get movies in the hands of owners to allow them to experience HD DVD in it’s glory and get higher satisfaction levels when surveyed by independents.
- They can get higher disc attach rates with each drive. Attach rate (the number of movies that a person buys over the lifetime of the player) is an important statistic to media companies.
This one bugs the crap out of me: Why aren’t they advertising the great in disc content on HD DVD’s? And why aren’t they hiring more people to facilitate that content into more movies?
The on-disc HD DVD interactive content is so good on discs like The Bourne Ultimatum… then it just sucks on the Bourne Identity? It’s fantastic on movies like Transformers & The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and then it blows on Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut and Waterworld.
There’s an expectation that if it’s on HD DVD… it should be cool. They should be running classes for studios on how to build great HD DVD content using HDi.