Technology

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.