Blu-ray wins, customers will lose for years to come

Best Buy and Netflix have hammered the latest nails in the coffin of HD-DVD in the high-definition video format war.  HD-DVD had the more intuitive name and a broader group of companies behind it.  Blu-ray had a strange describe-the-color-of-the-laser-you-don’t-see name, was pushed primarily by Sony, and was the superior technology on paper.  Sony sold Playstation 3s containing Blu-ray players at a loss and allegedly threw lots of money at movie studios to entice them to release movies in their format.

A technically superior product winning a format war isn’t tragic.  Format wars themselves are.  Customers end up buying expensive doorstops.  Companies on the losing side are locked out of a wave of technology.  Retailers are caught in the middle.

This result is especially troublesome because few companies have been as aggressive in fueling format wars as Sony.  Betamax (vs. VHS), MiniDisc (vs. CD-RW?), ATRAC (vs. MP3), Memory Stick (vs. SD/CF), SACD (vs. DVD-A), SDDS (vs. Dolby Digital/DTS), and power outlets (thankfully a joke).  Every single one of these prior format wars resulted in Sony ending up with a loser’s share of the market, and presumably a lot of wasted cash.  Typically, Sony tried to push a premium price on the consumer.  I was hopeful that Blu-ray would be Sony’s Waterloo, the end of their format war ambitions.  Instead, they’ve “won”, all but assuring consumers more decades of Sony pushing proprietary “standards” in the hopes of conquering a market so they can charge premium prices for that generation of technology and render many consumers’ expensive hardware useless in the process.

What do I want?  Formats that appear open and obvious to the consumer.  DVD.  CD.  TV.  HDTV.   Even HD Radio (proprietary, but consumers will never know this).  More time building a market for new tech.  Less time gambling for the right to “own” a small piece of a big market.


4 thoughts on “Blu-ray wins, customers will lose for years to come

  1. Mark – not sure I’m calling for anything so specific… these standards do serve a useful purpose in that consumers are generally (not fully, as proven by some rogue “CD”-ish formats with extra copy protection) protected against substandard, incompatible products.

    It would be nice if everyone could just get along. For the most part, the CD and DVD formats were good enough from the consumer perspective. Almost any new format since then (DRM music, DVD+/-R, and HD-DVD/Blu-ray) has been marked with such jockeying for position. If the parties involved were rational, it seems they would conclude that a joint effort has a better risk-adjusted profit than a format war.

  2. Exactly right. Blu-Ray was a superior technology ON PAPER ONLY.

    Anybody with any knowledge of the HD market will tell you that with the exception of the PS3, there isn’t a single Blu-Ray player on the market ready for prime time.

    Not ONE.

    A better technology ON PAPER isn’t worth much compared with a better technology IN REALITY. Despite this, they still win the war.


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