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June 18, 2007

"Death Knell" For HD-DVD Format? Blockbuster Puts Blu-Ray Into 1700 Stores

Just mentioning this because I so long questioned Sony's decision to seriously overprice its PS3 in order to bundle it with a Blu-Ray player, in hopes that they could leverage the PS3's popularity into a victory for their proprietary high-def DVD format.

With HD-DVD only available in the current 250 Blockbuster outlets (as well as online) that offer both formats, and now Blu-Ray about to be stocked in 1700, it does seem like they got something out of their sacrifice of the PS3.

And a sacrifice it was:

Market watcher NPD this week said some 338,000 Wiis were sold in the US in May. Microsoft sold 155,000 Xbox 360s and Sony sold just 82,000 PS3s.

And the PS3 rolled out like a half year later than the XBox 360, so, based on timing considerations alone, one would expect the PS3 to be outperforming the XBox.

But the PS3's real competition isn't the XBox but the PS2, which continues outselling both platforms despite its supposed obsolescence.

The Death-Knell For Theatrical Exhibitions? How good is high-def on a decent sized screen? Really good. Really, really good. I still find that I'm getting a 10% bonus in enjoyment watching football just based on how startlingly clear the picture is.

Combine a decent hi-def tv with a middle-range speaker system and a hi-def DVD player and there really is no reason to go to the movies anymore. I'm sure that film, when projected properly on to a clean screen not stained by thrown sodas and otherwise marred, is still a higher-resolution format; but then, one usually sits 30 feet from a movie screen, and only six or eight feet from a HD TV screen. The actual subjective resolution, as actually experienced by a viewer, is better on HD TV. I was blown away watching Casino Royale on HD TV; I found it to have been a sharper picture than what I'd seen in the movie house.

More... Adolfo asks if conventional DVDs will become obsolete.

Not technically -- I think even the HD players will still play them -- but the very fine resolution on a HD TV really exposes the limitations in resolution of the DVD format. DVD played on a big HD TV winds up looking grainy and muddy... kind of like videotape images looked after you'd gotten used to DVD.

forged rite mentions an up-converter DVD player, which supposedly delivers a higher-resolution picture from conventional DVDs to an HD TV. He said it was no improvement at all. I disagree (that's where I am now), but the improvement is not vast. It's just an incrementally better picture, just a bit better. Anyone telling you that this sort of player can deliver HD pictures is lying. It can't -- it's not even close -- but it will make conventional DVDs look not quite so muddy and grainy on an HD TV.

I'm not sure the future is with discs of any kind, necessarily. I watched Casino Royale in HD right off my cable's HD PPV menu for like $5.99, which was a pretty decent price. (A buck or two over the usual cost.)

And they're working on even more interesting means of direct delivery. I heard a while ago about a scheme to provide customers with a black box containing a massive hard drive (or several of them) that would be loaded with something like 100 movies already on it -- you just have to pay each time you want to watch one.

It gets updated all the time with new movies -- if I'm remembering correctly, they were interested in paying local PBS affiliates to partially steal their cable or broadcast signal so that part of PBS's feed would be dedicated to a delivering new movies, bit by bit, over the course of days (all day long, while you're working or sleeping, without you even noticing), so that every few days you'd find that you'd had a couple or three movies added to your menu. (I think stealing a bit of PBS' terrestrial-broadcast bandwith is just to make it so you don't need cable or internet to actually use the service, as well as to avoid having to pay cable companies for carrying a signal.)

The ultimate move, I think, is away from physical delivery systems (movie theaters, even DVDs) to the broadcast/broadband model of just moving bits on to your hard-drive. The format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD may be a false war, as both formats are rendered obsolete and quaint within five years.

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posted by Ace at 03:04 PM

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