HD media future may be Blu, but it's not rosy
Blu-ray demand low despite format war win
Analysis Sales of Blu-ray Disc players have not benefitted from the end of the format war, it seems. This week US retail market watcher NPD said player sales grew just two per cent in the month after Toshiba tossed in the towel.
The Japanese giant's decision to abandon HD DVD came on 19 February. That month, NPD said, Blu-ray Disc player sales fell 40 per cent when compared to January's total. In March, sales rose, but only by that two per cent figure.
It's important to note that these are standalone player sales - the figures don't include PlayStation 3 sales. Associated Press notes that Sony sold 257,120 PS3s in the US in March. While that's double the number sold in March 2007, it's not clear to what extent these consoles are being used as BD players, whether occasionally or consistently.
According to US Home Media Magazine, which cited Nielsen VideoScan sales figures, Blu-ray Disc disc sale volumes were up 351 per cent during Q1 when compared to Q1 2007's total. That sounds good, but let's look at the numbers more closely.
In the US, disc shipments were up 2.6 per cent year on year, rising from around 226m units in Q1 2008 to 232m in Q1 2008, HMM said. This was despite a 1.2 per cent drop in DVD shipments over the same timeframe. So Blu-ray and HD DVD shipments not only increase year on year, they more that compensated for falling DVD demand.
If all the 226m units sold in Q1 2007 were DVDs, that means some 223m DVDs shipped in Q1 2008. Take that from 232m and you have Q1 2008 unit shipments of HD media reaching a shade under 9m units.
That's still only four per cent of the total, no matter how much bigger the figure is than Q1 2007's sales. We'd estimate that around 75 per cent of those HD disc sales were Blu-ray, given historical sales patterns, which is roughly 6.8m units.
That's over three months. It's wrong to say that means 2.3m BDs were sold during each month of the quarter, but we'll take that as a worst-case scenario. That means, on average, everyone who bought a PS3 in March also bought nine BDs. Which doesn't sound bad - until you factor in all the other owners of BD-capable kit.
At the end of 2007, it's estimated there were 3.5m devices capable of BD playback in US homes, according to Bernstein Research analyst Michael Nathanson. If no new Blu-ray hardware was sold in Q1 2008, those pre-existing owners acquired, on average, just 0.67 BDs each in Q1 2008. Since there were new Blu-ray hardware sales, the real discs-per-owner figure will be rather lower than that as the same number of discs are spread out over a greater number of players.
All of which indicates that, in Q1 at least, HD sales were not great. That's not a reason not to buy in to Blu-ray, of course. There are plenty of movies to buy, and many more coming. But it does indicate that consumers as a whole are not clamouring for HD content.
While it was easy in the past to blame that on the format war, unless Q2 numbers show otherwise, it's clear US consumers have yet to be persuaded of the benefits of going to Blu-ray, particularly while prices remain high. Even the cheapest BD system, the PS3, doesn't seem to be drawing consumers to HD media.
Incidentally, the PS3 is also the most Blu-compatible box in that it supports the greatest range of the format's features. Until the Blu-ray camp really nails down the specification, so that buyers can be certain a purchase will play all of a given disc's content, the BD-backing vendors are doing themselves no favours.
Meanwhile, if the US economy does indeed go into recession, as some economists fear, consumer support for HD media is even less certain.
I agree, content IS the king. Sony was never strong with good cinema - they simply do not release the kind of movies I'd like to keep and return to. Stuff they release is mostly good to watch once and forget (sometimes with bad taste in mounth), which means rent and no purchase. On the others - yes, I kept buying some Universal (HD DVD) and Warner Bross stuff. Now I will have to switch to BD - but no sooner until some good titles appear (I'd love "LotR" trilogy in HD). No major problem with that. Screen resolution - you need to have 30 deg. view angle to actually see these 1080 lines, which is why either big screen is needed or one needs to sit very close to TV. In most cases old habits win, which means people have small screens (at least in angle view terms) and simply do not see resolution benefit beyond 720 or 576 lines. Also, TV DOES take up space - either on the wall or on the floor. This is especially a problem in Europe (not to mention Japan!) where flats tend to be small compared to US or Australia. Movies quality? Since I was kid I remember that cinema had better quality and it still holds true - this is because 35mm offers resolution much beyond 1080 lines. I guess the problem you are seeing is with remastering, not with original material (the only one problem with original old material I have is camera shake). Finally, there is contrast issue - right now you either buy plasma with great contrast and even greater power consumption (which is also proportional to number of pixels displayed - 1080 screen consumes 2x much energy as 720 one in the same size), or LCD with poor contrast, especially if you tend to watch movies in the dark (then "blacks" look more like glorified greys). I would be happy to replace my plasma with OLED (I have MP3 player with AMOLED screen and it beats everything) but these are far from the market.
To sum it up - screen technology is not mature enough (contrast, power consumption), movie selection is poor, consumers do not use big enough screens to benefit from HD. It will take years before HD takes of comparably to DVD.
yes 35mm film is nice - an analogue shot isnt digitised so can contain high quality of image. BUTTTT films like the aliens movies were shot on BADDDD film stock. so no matter how much you do to them they will always look pants - this is all down to this magic "film" you talked of :)
and if the HD-DVD version of casablanca HASNT been massively re-mastered for digital i would be very surprised! for the basic fact that analogue film stock also dimishes over time... where as as long as your optical media doesnt get fuckered you will see no loss in quality....
i know where you are coming from... i have a REALLY GOOD vhs player (in my loft now) that made certain VHS tapes look WAYY better than some DVDs!
"The strongest argument against adoption is that unless the new movie you are wanting to watch was filmed with HD cameras or is a 100% CGI, its all pointless. You won't realize an increadible picture on 720p or 1080p if the source material is low grade. Like it was said above, older movies will look no better, and in some cases, may even look worse due to upconverting."
Let me introduce you to this wonderful piece of technology. It's called "film". There's more detail in a 35mm piece of film than there is in a 1920x1080 digital shot. Go watch the HD-DVD of Casablanca and come back when you realise how incredibly wrong you are.
"Once the media drops in price for data back-up/archive use, we should see a rapid take up replacing the tape drives for SMB in particular."
Maybe. In some SMBs. But the one I work for still backs up to CDRs. We don't have a DVR burner in the office.
The reason media centre on your 360 isn't showing HD is because you are using XP MCE. Vista HP or Ultimate (e.g. the editions with Media Centre) output in HD as well as SD.
Spend £99 on an upgrade to HP and you'll have true HD streamed from your PC to the telly your 360 is connected to.
And in the near future you can purchase media centre extenders that act as a media centre client that plugs into your TV. (E.g. Wifi to HDMI connector that recieves media centre)