DVD will fail? Sounds a lot like Blu-ray

DVD is a huge success now, but back in 1996 there were plenty of critics who argued that the format would fail. And interestingly, many of the same arguments are being used against Blu-ray today.

It's hard to imagine now, but when DVD first launched, its success was far from guaranteed. Back in 1996, there were even anti-DVD fanboys, and recently we ran into a rant--sarcastically retitled as "Why DVD would fail"--that struck us as eerily familiar to the current arguments against Blu-ray. Considering that DVD was such a huge success, it's worth looking at exactly how similar the two formats are at this early stage, and what that means for the future of Blu-ray.

1. Consumers aren't willing to rebuy movies

They will be the same tired movies that everyone already owns and will be loathe to buy again. [...] Because the titles available will be ones that people already own, they will naturally sell less than a new release that is still hot from the theaters. This will result in even a bigger cost for companies because the less they sell, the more each feature costs to implement on each title.

Right. Just like nobody repurchased their albums on CD or VHS tapes on DVD. This one seems to get dragged out for every new format and is quickly ignored once it takes off. We're not saying that people will rush to replace their DVDs with Blu-ray discs, but it seems obvious consumers eventually give in and repurchase media if the new format is worthwhile. The only difference we'd note is that well-kept DVDs don't deteriorate after use like VHS tapes did, so perhaps consumers will be somewhat less likely to replace their DVDs that still look as good as the day they bought them.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray.


2. Not enough movies

All the companies involved with DVD are promising a catalog of 250 titles at the launch with maybe 50 to 100 actually available in the stores in the beginning. [...] And even if they do manage to finish 250 movies in time for the launch, what will those movies be? Top Gun? Rocky?

When any type of new format launches, early adopters are stuck with a pretty limited initial selection. It happened with DVD, and it happened with Blu-ray, which still only has about 650 titles available two years after its release. And we're seeing it all over again with criticism of the selection on online movie services, such as iTunes, Vudu , and the Netflix Player . This argument seems pretty shortsighted overall--if a new format offers a new compelling experience, the content will follow.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray.


3. Can't record

Consumers will look at DVD and see that it doesn't record. That will instantly arouse suspicions in their mind that if the movies they want to watch are not available on the DVD discs, then the machine will be useless to them and a waste of money.

DVD recorders are old technology now, but when DVD first came out one of the knocks against it was that it didn't record like VHS--which was a killer feature before DVRs became ubiquitous. Blu-ray recorders are available now in Japan, but we haven't seen any signs of them coming to the U.S. in the near future. But the real issue is that Blu-ray recording just doesn't matter as much with high-def DVRs and so many TV series being released on high-quality DVD and Blu-ray sets.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray, but less people care.


4. Nobody cares about special features

Another question is, how many consumers actually want and use all the special features that DVD might offer? CD players offer all kinds of special programming and playback options, yet most people never touch these features. A cheap VCR is seen as too intimidating to most Americans. They just want to watch the movie, not select different versions, languages, and such. The LD market has proven that these extra features are desired, but only by a small segment of the population.

This point has been made about Blu-ray right here on CNET, in Executive Editor David Carnoy's Fully Equipped column. While I tend to agree that special features aren't a big draw for DVD or Blu-ray, it tends to be the icing on the cake, rather than the main draw of the format. DVD didn't succeed because of special features--and neither will Blu-ray--but they're a nice extra.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray.


5. Picture quality isn't that much better

And now we get into the most controversial aspect of the entire DVD debate. Picture quality, or the lack there of. When DVD was first announced, it was claimed to offer D1 Master Tape quality. A short while later, the companies said it was much better than VHS but worse than LD. Now they have swung the other way again and are claiming D1 quality again. Quite simply, this will be impossible on commercially prepared, feature-length films.

It seems insane to argue that DVD isn't a huge leap over VHS in terms of image quality, but it's less crazy than you think. It takes content makers a while to fully understand how to use new technology, which is why many first-run CDs and DVDs are surprisingly mediocre. The same thing happened with Blu-ray--anyone who saw the first version of The Fifth Element on Blu-ray can attest to that. But now that we've seen a steady flow of exceptional looking Blu-ray discs, it's going to be harder to find people who aren't impressed by the image quality of Blu-ray on a big-screen HDTV.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray.


6. The industry is just greedy

DVD is just a bad idea. It is being forced upon a uncaring and unwanted public and is an inferior product that simply isn't needed or desired. DVD exists only for one reason. Greed. Motion picture studios are always looking for a way to sell the same stuff over and over again and they think DVD is the answer.

More cynical observers might characterize Blu-ray as just the industry's latest attempt to make money on the same movies yet again. But the industry didn't introduce DVD out of the kindness of its heart--it did it to make money--and few people look back on successful formats like DVD and CD as a devious scheme by motion picture studios.

Verdict: Same argument now used against Blu-ray.


So, since the same arguments that didn't matter with DVD are now being used against Blu-ray, does that mean Blu-ray is destined to be as successful as DVD? Not quite. The simple fact is that Blu-ray's main draw is that it offers significantly better image quality than DVD, and whether consumers think that's a worthwhile upgrade will make or break the format. All the other arguments essentially don't matter, just like they didn't with DVD.

What do you think? Are Blu-ray critics lobbing the same weak arguments as DVD critics did back in 1996? Or are the same arguments against Blu-ray more convincing in the current marketplace. Sound off in the comments.

 

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