Home Toys Article
- June 2004 -
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Faster, Bigger, Cheaper
Writing to keep you abreast of the DVD industry is tricky and we have to decipher all of the smoke/mirrors, claims/counterclaims.
First of all the industry knows precisely who you are - compared to the public at large - so they are better able to deliver products you really want. The industry association spent a lot of time and money to look at your attitudes, purchase considerations, decision influences, purchase channels, current ownership and future buying intentions. As a result they pinpointed five key segments - women, African-Americans, Hispanics, teens and seniors.
It's All About You
What did they find out?
What products are you buying?
You're buying DVD players, digital players and home theater systems in record numbers.
According to the leading market research firms across the country and all of the new digital toys we have seen being announced in recent months - big high-def TVs; compact/multi-featured digital cameras and camcorders; newer, faster and cheaper DVD burners and recorders and higher speed, higher capacity media.
The interesting change we see is that the line between PCs and consumer electronic devices (PVRs, DVD recorders, TVs) is blurring. Trust us the PC manufacturers clearly have your home in their sights. Why? Well take a look at Figure B and how IDC (Framingham, MA-based research firm) views your home.
That's one target home…yours.
The Consumer Pot of Gold
Now consider the market dynamics they are working on. Intel and their PC customers - Dell, HP, Gateway, IBM, etc - have done a very good job of selling systems into your office. But the numbers are peanuts compared to the consumer households in the US. What do we mean?
Suddenly you can see how important your abode really is to PC/camera/camcorder/burner manufacturers. It's no wonder they are working so hard to bring together your audio, video, gaming, imaging, communications and productivity requirements in flexible, powerful and economic solutions.
The area that exemplifies this most is in the DVD area (thought you'd forget why we were here didn't you?). Hollywood has screamed that with DVD burners we are all going to go out and download billions of dollars worth of movies from the web and they will never get their money. They claim we are costing them billions by making illegal copies of "their" movies. Or that we're going to download all of that "free" music and make really big CDs (actually up to 16 hours plus) of music.
The truth is - and IDC agrees - most people buy DVD burners (Figure C) simply to have the latest technology and - as Camcorder readers know - to save and share their video memories. For you it is all about the personal and professional video content…your family/friends home movies, your TV programs.
The Home Entertainment Center
As we said the home computer landscape is changing and none too fast. Last year your options were a dozen different boxes (and controls) from the likes of Pioneer, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Apex and others. Or you could be a trendsetter and buy a media center PC from Gateway, HP, Dell, IBM and others. Great solution! Trouble was you either had to buy a brand new system or purchase home entertainment software like InterVideo's Home Theater. The shortcoming is that both are based on Microsoft Windows which takes some time to boot up.
It's not a bad thing because it beats five different boxes on or around your HD ready TV set and the dizzying array of remote controls that were required. And when you start networking your home you can deliver content - TV, movies, family videos, photo albums, audio - everywhere in the house. Microsoft says that boot-up really isn't a problem because consumers won't turn off their media center PCs so they will always be immediately ready to go.
It's a good "work around" but we still turn our TV, stereo, DVD player and other appliances off at night…just funny that way.
There's a new breed of solution coming out right now thanks to the leadership of Intel and some of their creative software partners. CE manufacturers have always used derivations of Linux - the open platform software - because it was clean, powerful, easily modified and cheap. Intel proposed to the world a home theater/entertainment solution built on some of their new low power, high-speed processors (naturally) using Linux based software solutions.
One that is just entering the market inside a number of different PCs from firms like Sharp, Fujitsu, Sony, Levono, Mitac, NEC and yes the big names is a home entertainment solution called InstantON. The mini-BIOS, OS, power management, and noise control sits in RAM so it can come on instantly (ok 10 seconds) similar to your TV just with a remote control. All of the systems also include flavors of Windows so you can get office or schoolwork done but obviously Windows takes a little time to boot-up.
It was developed by the people who probably produced the DVD player software you probably use - WinDVD by InterVideo. Seeing one of the first notebooks with the technology installed it looked exactly like a standard media center. We watched DVDs and home VCDs with outstanding clarity, we browsed through photo albums, listened to music with rich surround sound and watched TV with time-shifting capabilities. There was lots more and this next Christmas we know what we're asking Santa for…just don't know which brand name it will be yet.
The technical shortcoming is that we're going to have to buy a whole new entertainment center solution because it has to come pre-installed in the system. Maybe in a year or two it will be software you can buy. But industry analysts project that by the end of the year every PC manufacturer will be offering entertainment systems that will include video production and PVR capabilities.
DVD - Faster, Bigger, Cheaper
All of that leads to DVD.
Do you go to many horse races? That just about tells you the state of the DVD manufacturer and technology field.
First the +RW Alliance shot ahead with 8x DVD+R. Then out of the dust came Pioneer and the DVD Forum with 8x DVD-R. Then the Alliance announced Double Layer (DL) DVD+R. Again from the middle of the pack Pioneer and the Forum introduced two layer DVD-R.
All of the real burner manufacturers (in order of leadership) - Hitachi LG, LiteOn, Samsung, BenQ, NEC, Teac, Pioneer, Ricoh and "Taiwan's/China's others" are shipping dual burners. These units write at 8x speed (complete disc in about 10 minutes) single layer (4.7GB) DVD-R/+R performance and slower DVD+/-RW and CD-R/-RW. The price premium - think almost zero!
The media - yes the pivotal part of the equation - is just coming into stores in reasonable volumes and the price per disc is almost the same as 4x +/-R.
We're already looking at 16x writing speeds being available in October/November. Media will be available "shortly after." Wolfgang Schlichting of IDC summarized the issue best when he said even with 16x we are already in a commodity price race and there are no slowdowns in sight for more price reductions even with speed improvements. Quality, price and manufacturer reputation will be the only price differentiates.
Why isn't the delivery of burners and media in sync? Good question. It is pretty easy for the burner manufacturer to crank up the speed. But the media manufacturers have to have detailed manufacturing specs so the discs you write can be read across the majority of players. That means a constant round of spec writing, new formula development, sample run production, testing, spec tweaking, reformulation, new test runs…
It isn't rocket science but it is chemistry magic.
16x appears to be the top-end speed but then every time we say that's the best that can be done some dye and chemistry magician proves us wrong. So we'll say that's the top speed…maybe.
DL and two-layer was a little more difficult for the burner engineers and a lot more difficult for the media people. Very simply, the laser writes your data on the upper or lower layer of the disc (see photo 1). Today's players read the disc accordingly (just as they do with many of your enhanced Hollywood DVDs). The good news is that most of the players shipped over the past 2-3 years are capable of playing those double layer discs. Even more good news is that the burner manufacturers will probably be able to make the new burners backward compatible in writing your 4.7GB discs.
Bad news is you'll have to buy a new burner (we'll bet they will probably do both +/-) and they will cost a little more. Media? It will probably be about twice the cost of your standard single layer disc and prices probably won't drop for four-six months. More importantly it will probably be in short supply for 4-6 months as media producers improve and speed their manufacturing processes and procedures.
The Next Round
We wish we could say the next generation technology was proceeding smoothly but it isn't. We shouldn't worry about it other than know it is on the horizon. Think two to four years…honest!
The big deal is that there are two camps (again) Blu-Ray is in one corner of the ring and AOD or HD DVD in the other. The trainers and backers of Blu-Ray are 10 leading CE manufacturers. In HD DVD's corner there are NEC, Toshiba and nominally the DVD Forum.
Blu-Ray seems to be ahead in the judges eyes right now with a capacity improvement of 23-27GB (enough for 133 min of HDTV), expensive products that are shipping in Japan already and a roadmap for double layer capacities of 46-54GB.
But HD DVD gives you a capacity improvement of 20GB rewritable and 15GB for ROM. It retains the same media thickness and basic technology approach so they argue it will be easy for media manufacturers to move up to HD DVD disc production. Oh yes Hollywood prefers this or did we forget to mention this little "fact!"
The big questions are do consumers really care about the added capacity if it will be at a substantial premium and will require a new generation of players for playback?
Doubtful given that you can get superior video quality with today's DVD technology. In addition, the market for today's lower and lower priced DVD burners/media is far from saturated. Incremental capacity and quality improvements are still being made without having to replace everything in your home.
The new format battle is again all about who is going to get the biggest piece of the intellectual property pie (royalty dollars) when the next generation technology becomes a mass-market solution. While the sides play one ups-manship and struggle to be king of the hill most of us consumers will do exactly what we did when the DVD "differences" first began…"we'll wait and see."
We'll be delighted to buy one of the new DVD burners for around $100 - $200 (single or double layer). We'll have plenty of them to choose from also because it is estimated more than 50 million burners will be produced this year (most dual format). We'll buy inexpensive CD media to write 30 minute videos that will play anywhere, 2 hour videos on DVDR (+/-) that will be economic and perhaps be one of the early adopters of double layer burners/discs just to be ahead of your neighbors/friends.
There's too much fog around the blue-ray technology issue. Beside, you have to put in your home network and your entertainment center solution. That will keep you busy and happy until "they" decide where storage goes next.