Next format DVD prediction: HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray

In the upcoming format battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray for the standard that will bring HDTV to the DVD disk, the winner will be… neither.

This post will probably not be too interesting to most people. I’m writing it mostly as my “message in a bottle” or “time capsule” to the future to see how good my powers of prediction are. That being said, let me polish my crystal ball, gaze into it and forecast the future.

In the upcoming format battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray for the standard that will bring HDTV to the DVD disk, the winner will be… neither.

I’m a little surprised nobody else has said this. Or more likely, someone has, and I just haven’t read it. The problem is that we’re spoiling for a long and costly format battle that may be similar to the historic “Beta vs VHS” and it would literally take years for one format to win out over the other. Many say the battle will really depend on the introduction of Blu-Ray in the upcoming Sony Playstation 3 and the eventual offering of HD-DVD to the XBox-360 as an attachable upgrade. We’ll probably see both introduced around Christmas time.

Early adopters will start buying these systems, but they wont be seen in volume until well into 2007. I predict the movie industry will start offering High-def movies for exorbitant costs ($20+) like they always do. That will slow down widespread adoption until 2008 or later. Timeframes for media formats are typically really slow, measured in many years.

Compare those timeframes with “Internet time” where entire technological landscapes and “the way people are used to dealing with media” changes comparatively in a heartbeat. How long did it take for Tivo to change the way TV viewers expected to watch television. How long did it take the iPod and iTunes to transform the way people buy music, and almost overnight it brought instant gratification for those of us who wanted to watch some select “cable shows”.

Look at the unstoppable progression of “Bittorrents” which allow people to publish and watch media—both legal, illegal and everywhere in between. (I’ve now watched a couple old “Doctor Who” episodes from the 1970’s that I’ve been spoiling to see again and which the BBC never seems to get around to releasing on DVD. Strictly speaking, that’s illegal, but come on! We’re talking about some cheesy 1970’s low-budget sci-fi here!)

Okay, time to get to my original point: physical storage media is not only becoming obsolete, but more importantly it’s becoming obsolete in the mindset of the average person. The Internet’s sense of instant gratification coupled with Tivo’s concept of “viewing on demand” and Netflix’s almost-overnight ability to deliver any movie to any viewer—and remember that Netfilx is working hard to move to an Internet distribution system—will make the current physical delivery obsolete.

By the time 2008 rolls around, whether Blu-Ray or HD-DVD wins, it will not only be too late, but consumer frustration over the industry’s inability to form a compromise will put that final nail in the “physical media” coffin that much faster. Remarkably, the protracted format wars, which are really about large corporations fighting for patent revenue, will ultimately lead to all these companies loosing everything and probably even taking a major loss in development costs.

So that’s my prediction. I’m so curious to see how my powers of prognostication turn out. I recently read over past blogs where I was completely certain John Kerry would win the 2004 election; that speaks loudly to my fallibility.

Author: Murray Todd Williams

I live in Austin, Texas. I'm enthusiastic about food, wine, programming (especially Scala), tennis and politics. I've worked for Accenture for over 12 years where I'm a Product Manager for suite of analytical business applications.

2 thoughts on “Next format DVD prediction: HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray”

  1. I agree that the days of keeping media on a set medium are limited, but I’m unsure as to how quick that day will come. The powers that be very much like the control and per unit price they get from selling little disks. What television needs is it’s own Ipod and I don’t quite think the bandwidth and DRM are quite there yet. Sony’s UMD format for the PSP seems already dead though, so perhaps your prediction will be correct.

  2. Wow! Your are so right! How is it that I’ve not seen this elsewhere.

    I’m sure as hell not going to sink thousands into players and discs that could turn out the be the next Betamax.

    The Hi-Def DVD format war will drive the public to, at best, on-demand delivery or, at worst, piracy.

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