Believing Blu-ray will succeed doesn't make sense

Despite winning the popularity contest over HD DVD, the share that Sony's high-definition video disc format has of the market is slumping. Does it have a chance?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read

CNET's Crave on Friday reported on Nielsen's latest VideoScan figures, showing that Blu-ray Disc's market share in the video disc market has slumped in the past week.

According to Nielsen, Blu-ray's market share dropped to just 8 percent of the overall market, giving DVDs a whopping 92 percent ownership.

Granted, those figures show only one week's performance, and Blu-ray may have a huge week soon and capture more of the market, but let's be honest with ourselves: do we really think that will happen?

According to a study released in August by ABI Research, more than half the people it surveyed had no plans to buy a standalone Blu-ray player in the near future, and 23 percent are considering it, but not until 2009.

When your format is limping along with just 8 percent of the market, the last thing you want to hear is that only 23 percent of the population actually wants a Blu-ray player.

But wait! There's always the PlayStation 3, right? Surely, everyone who knows about Blu-ray is picking up a PlayStation 3 to watch their movies. After all, won't that product be the savior for which Sony has been waiting?

Please. According to NPD's latest numbers, Sony sold just 185,000 PlayStation 3 units, which represented a 17 percent drop, compared to July sales numbers. Worse, it barely beat out the PlayStation 2, DVD player and all.

The PlayStation 3 isn't going to be Blu-ray's savior, and neither is that sub-$200 price tag. At this point, I simply don't see how Blu-ray has a chance.

Eight percent of the market is nothing. Sure, it's a young product, and DVD started out slowly too, but do all the people who espouse the belief that Blu-ray will succeed somehow forget that the jump between VHS and DVD was substantial?

Find yourself a VCR, and pop a tape into it. After that, throw a DVD into your player, and watch it on your HDTV. When you're done with that, do me a favor, and pop a Blu-ray movie into your PS3. Notice anything shocking when comparing VHS to DVD and anything, well, disappointing when comparing that DVD movie to Blu-ray?

That's what I thought.

Why would I want to buy a Blu-ray player and Blu-ray movies, which are more expensive than DVDs, when I can get the same basic experience (if not quite as enhanced) for little or no additional cost?

Worse, why would I want to buy my library of movies all over again, once Blu-ray becomes the de facto leader in disc media? That's an added expense I'm not willing to incur.

But the issues with Blu-ray go far beyond the slight difference (except on large HDTV screens) between DVD and Blu-ray. How about the fact that Blu-ray movies can't be brought, well, anywhere?

Sure, you can buy a Blu-ray movie at the store or get one from Netflix, and play it on your PS3 or standalone player, but you won't be able to play it on your notebook unless you have the latest and greatest laptop on the market. And you certainly won't be able to watch it in the car on a long ride. And unless your friends have a PS3 or a Blu-ray player, you won't be able to watch it with them, either.

Mobility is a key reason why DVD is such a success. You can buy a portable DVD player or pick up some movies, and play them practically anywhere you are. At this point, you simply can't do that with Blu-ray.

We also can't forget about HD downloads, the various streaming services on the Web, set-top boxes that let you stream movies to your home theater, cable boxes, and countless other technologies that put Blu-ray's usefulness and its entire future in doubt.

Services like Hulu are becoming increasingly popular, and products like the Roku Netflix box could easily command much of the market, as more people realize that streaming movies to an HDTV is more than possible. Better yet, iTunes now has HD video, which means that taking HD from your computer to your HDTV is getting simpler with each passing day.

And all the while, Blu-ray is the wild card, hoping against hope that someone, anyone, will finally find considerable value in the product, adopt it, and start making everyone around them jump on the bandwagon.

But alas, the possibility of that happening is slim. Blu-ray, while appealing in its own right, is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the inertia of the industry starts pulling us away from physical media formats, and HD video can be easily found elsewhere, everyone will realize that what they really need to do is move past Blu-ray and start using the products that will carry them into the future.

It may have beaten HD DVD, but Blu-ray doesn't stand a chance against DVD, nor the broader industry it's a part of. It's as simple as that.

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