Could the war between the competing HD disc formats – Blu-Ray and HD-DVD - actually be good for consumers?
Two newish pricing wrinkles have emerged. And they have me thinking maybe HD disc is not the New Laserdisc after all.
I. If you still have your Feb. 6-12 issue of TV Guide lying around, you can turn to the “Gadgets” column on pages 42 and 43 and discover that, as recently as two months ago, the Toshiba HD-DVD player was expected to sell for $499.00 while the Pioneer Blu-Ray player was estimated to sell for a whopping $1,800.
If you were like me, you saw those two price tags and thought to yourself, “Maybe I’ll check out that HD-DVD player first; see if that doesn’t do it for me.”
The pricing is important. Because if both machines cost the same, I think most people would be leaning toward Blu-Ray.
BRIEF BACKGROUND DIGRESSION ON WHY BLU-RAY MAYBE LOOKED BETTER THAN HD-DVD:
The really super-sucky thing about the HD-DVD format is Sony – which developed the rival Blu-Ray format and controls the home entertainment rights to everything from the “Spider-Man” movies to “A League of Their Own,” “A Few Good Men,” and “Jerry Maguire” – has said it will not issue its catalogs on HD-DVD.
By contrast, none of the big home entertainment suppliers has said it would NOT issue its product on Blu-Ray.
(The big advantage HD-DVD had over Blu-Ray, perhaps, was that it would be out first, now, in April. Blu-Ray players and discs aren’t expected till autumn at the earliest.)
Blu-Ray is also said to have superior capacity and speed, but I’m not certain if that makes much difference to me, or most other consumers. (Perhaps one of the techier talkbackers can find an article or two that tells us whether or not a whole movie fits on one side of an HD-DVD disc?)
END BACKGROUND DIGRESSION.
So TV Guide was dead-on with the HD-DVD player pricing. There’s currently a Toshiba model selling for $499.99. I think maybe that’s pretty much what I paid for my first regular DVD player.
So I’m guessing one of two things happened. Either TV Guide screwed up its Blu-ray hardware estimate pretty horribly, or Sony saw the TV Guide article (or something similar) and said, “Software availability be damned! Nobody’s going to buy a Blu-ray player for $1,800 if the HD-DVD player is $499!”
It’s a theory.
II. The other pricing eye-opener is what’s being charged for the software. I was all fearful HD-DVD pricing might be like laserdisc pricing, maybe $50-$70-$90 per title. I had hoped HD-DVDs might start as low as $30 or $40 per movie (didn’t regular DVDs used to cost that much?), then come down as the format matured.
Well, it turns out HD-DVDs (at least the first few to hit the market) only cost about what the regular DVDs do! $21.99 for “The Last Samurai” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” $19.99 for “Million Dollar Baby.” $16.99 for the 40-minute documentary “Chronos.”
And the HD-DVDs seem to come with the same extras we associate with the regular DVDs.
So I ask you: Would the first wave of HD-DVD pricing be this low if the format didn't have Blu-ray breathing down its neck?
Of course, none of this stuff will spit out an HD image if you don’t have an HD-ready set, but those things are getting a lot cheaper too. Philips has its a 26” RealFlat HD-Ready set down from $699 to just $259.99. If you want to go bigger, I note my Fry’s “Spring Sale” supplement has 32-inch HD Sonys for $899 and Mitsubishi 52-inch HD DLP sets on sale for $1,297. Not cheap, but perhaps not half of what your DVD collection cost you.
I’ve the HD versions of “Blade Runner,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Forbidden Planet,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Attack of the Clones” stored on an HD-TiVo, and the thought of what’s to come in the HD disc formats make me positively woozy!! If you’re geeky enough to read AICN, trust me, you’re geeky enough to want to own your movies in HD. Bring on “The Empire Strikes Back”! Bring on “Raiders”! Bring on “The Godfather”! Bring on “Kill Bill”! Bring on “Casablanca,” “Metropolis,” “Kong,” “Superman” and “Jaws”! Bring on the “Star Trek” TV series! Bring on more Kubrick, Keaton and Kurosawa, you bastards!!! I warn you not to defy me!!!!