Time For The New Toys

The technology we use to entertain ourselves is in a state of constant flux. It is always changing; some things shrink while others grow. New features make that which was intricate simple and the obvious complicated. One thing that never changes, however, is that customer whim drives the technology. The latest medium has had a rocky road, but 2010 will finally be the year of the Blue Ray.

Once upon a time, the only way to watch a movie in the home was to buy a projector and a copy of the actual celluloid film. In the 70’s, home video came of age with the aptly named Video Home System (VHS) which beat out rival Betamax in a heated contest for consumer hearts and minds and wallets. With video, a new industry was born and flourished with many companies manufacturing tapes and selling copies to rental houses across the country. Soon, the cost of reproduction fell so low that people could afford to buy a copy of their favorite movies to own. Home libraries grew to rival the rental houses and as more stores popped up selling tapes, the rental houses began to fall away one by one.

Then the first real challenge to VHS market dominance came in the digital versatile disk (DVD). This CD-sized medium offered startling resolution when compared to VHS as well as surround sound. It filled the hole in the market left by the failed laser disk and overflowed all over the VHS market. Soon, the remaining rental houses began stocking only DVDs. Wal-Mart decided to do away with tapes altogether. Now the video tape has gone the way of the 8-track.

DVD has enjoyed total market dominance for almost 10 years, surviving the HD wars that caused such a stir three years ago. Two new formats of DVD fought it out much in the same manner as Betamax and VHS. HD DVD and Blue Ray both offered significantly better picture and uncompressed 5.1 digital surround sound. They used improvements in laser technology to cram more data onto disk the size of a standard DVD. Drives that read either disk could also read standard DVDs as well. So the battle was fought not in the TV, but in the shopping centers and box stores as releasing companies tried to outmaneuver each other with the new format. Blue Ray finally won and HD DVD has joined Betamax in the annals of failed but superior technology.

But Blue Ray’s victory was not complete. While it emerged as sole High Definition format, the Venerable DVD was still the big boy on the block and wasn’t going gently into that good night. Vendors and movie companies failed to realize the market and thought and planned on Blue Ray as a premium medium. They priced players in the $500 range and movie titles were double that of standard DVDs. Well, customers just thought that wouldn’t do, so they stayed away in droves from the Blue Ray section and bought more titles in standard DVD.

Even as HDTV took off and more and more people bought LCD and Plasma flat panel TVs, they were not spending the extra money for Blue Ray. Many market analysts predicted that Blue Ray would die a death of market apathy. People wouldn’t elect to buy a Blue Ray version of a title they already had in standard DVD, especially with the premium price tag. Some stores only allocated a half a shelf for the entire blue ray section, while the standard section was four or five shelves.

The rebound happened with Christmas 2009. After the summer FCC mandated digital transition, HDTVs started flying off the shelf even faster than before. Prices for flat panel sets dropped well below the thousand dollar mark. Movie companies finally began to realize that customers will not pay more for a blue ray title and so stores started marking them down to almost as low as standard DVDs. Many titles are actually cheaper on Blue Ray. Blue Ray players have also dropped in price, making the whole high def home theater experience affordable.

For those still on the fence, it is time to get in the game. Prices will only drop so low, and with the economy being the way it is, specials abound making it the perfect time. Besides, you will be doing your part to stimulate the economy to help bring us out of the recession. It is time for the DVD to join the VHS tape and the LP in the age of obsolescence.

Next, 3D-TV?

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