Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sic semper... something

And so HD-DVD has passed on, ceased to be, it is an ex-format, yada yada. Toshiba threw in the towel after fighting a losing battle against Blu-Ray, a battle for a very small slice of the market. Because let's face it -- the HD market is not that big. An awful lot of people can't afford HDTVs yet, and resent the impression that they're having it forced on them by the analog shutdown next year. (It isn't, but the FCC has done a piss-poor job of getting the word out, and the converter boxes currently on the market are outrageously priced even with the subsidized discount.)

It's not that I'm terribly comfortable with Blu-Ray -- the DRM on the format is particularly nasty and paranoid, and though nobody has actually put it into use just yet, the possibility that you could have your player bricked because of a firmware update you didn't know about is really inexcusable. But Blu-Ray has some big upsides. The disc format, for one thing, is more robust than DVD, with mandatory scratchproofing to protect the recording surface. The capacity of the disc is 10GB greater for a single-sided disc, and the recording equipment is more readily available (BD-R burners are not easily found, but HD-DVD burners are damn near impossible). More companies have been shipping Blu-Ray -- in Best Buy a couple of weeks ago, I saw Blu-Ray from five companies (Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung (first to market around here) and LG) and HD-DVD from just two (Toshiba and LG (who was hedging their bets with a two-way player anyway)). Not to mention the way the video game market handled it -- Microsoft offers HD-DVD for the Xbox360, but only as an add-on, while Sony went all-in with the PS3. (Nintendo won by bypassing HD entirely for the Wii and focusing on gameplay -- smart move there.) And most Blu-Ray players seem to be able to handle AVCHD, a godsend to anyone wanting to distribute homemade HD content, since BD-R blanks are still outrageously expensive and DVDs are filthy cheap.

I have heard a great many people saying that it's all moot as we'll all be downloading our video in a few years anyway. Well, maybe those people will -- I've no doubt it's a workable business model. But I don't like being at the mercy of someone else's DRM server to watch a movie whenever I want. As videotape did not kill the movie industry, as the World Wide Web and ebooks have not killed paper books, so downloading will not kill the disc. They play to different market segments, and it's really foolish to pretend otherwise. (It reminds me of Microsoft's house concept that I saw on some newsmagazine (probably Dateline NBC) a few years back -- it was full of interesting gadgets that nobody but a hardcore wirehead could really appreciate. I'm not saying there aren't people who will appreciate it, but at the same time there's a whole hell of a lot of people who just don't see the point.)