Friday, October 5, 2007

The Format War Drags On

From the desk of Lee Distad's Professional Opinion:

It’s really hard to gauge the state of the marketplace in terms of Blu-ray versus HD-DVD. For a start, there’s so much spin coming out of the marketing apparatchiks for both formats that it’s impossible to get a clear picture of who’s coming out on top. If all you did was read press releases, it would seem like both formats are on opposite sides of a teeter-totter: This week, Blu-ray is the clear winner, next week, it’s HD-DVD!

Talking to friends and contacts in mass-market retail, nobody has been especially impressed with their sell-through on players in either format. And in the casual walkthroughs I’ve done at my local Future Shops and Best Buys, I’ve seen little evidence that either format is getting a big push from the retailers, nor experiencing high demand from mainstream consumers. The aforementioned contacts have all said that there is greater demand and sell-through on DVD players that upscale from 480p to 720p or 1080p.

In the custom integration channel, the consensus for the past year has been to wait and see. Now we are seeing upper-end brands committing to one format or another. Denon is going to release a Blu-ray player, as is Krell (whose player has a suggested retail of US$25,000…), while Onkyo/Integra and Meridian will be supporting HD-DVD. Going forward, the loyalties of custom companies and high-end retailers will fall along the lines drawn by the manufacturers that they already have strong relationships with.

So how is it all going to shake out? Today, my gut instinct says that it’s going to be Blu-ray.

There, I said it.

Given how vocal I have been about Sony’s Playstation3 marketing mishaps for the past year, it takes a lot for me to put that on the record.

Why do I say that? I have a bunch of reasons, all of them anecdotal, ear-to-the-ground type observations. For a start, browsing Internet forums devoted to Hi-Fi, I’m seeing way more threads about Blu-ray players than about HD-DVD players. For another, when I look at the manufacturer names lined up for Blu-ray, there are some serious heavy hitters, even more so than the HD-DVD camp. The biggest of all is Panasonic. The idea of Panasonic climbing into bed with Sony to cooperate on a format invented by Sony is something that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. The lion is lying down with the tiger.

Bear in mind that it isn’t over; it isn’t even close to being over. Also I have been wrong before. I was one of the biggest loudmouths and promoters of MiniDisc back in the mid-‘90s, and look how well that turned out!

That said, I reserve my right to change my mind later, but this is what I think today, and all of you are welcome to bug me about it later if it turns out that I am completely, horribly wrong. (For more of Lee Distad's Professional Opinions)

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