Home Toys Article
- February 2005 -
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by THE Insider - an industry marketing/communications expert with more than 15 years of video, storage and networking experience.
THE Insider has been busy again for the last few months. Here is some more of his insight about what's happening in the home technology and DVD industry.
With all the content being developed - data, photos, images and video - it is increasingly all about storage and the preservation of that information. Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, points out that 95% of our information today starts out digital and remains digital.
According to Dr. Victor McCrary, business area executive for science and technology at John Hopkins University this fact places a major challenge on businesses, governments and people like you and me. While it should be saved on optical media - CD or DVD - most of the data goes to a hard drive and stays there.
By the end of 2004 we have all purchased more than 55 million digital cameras (globally) and more than 10 million digital camcorders. Finally camera phones have finally taken off in the US which is well behind Japan and Europe in purchases. Camera phones have grown so rapidly and their use so widespread that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently published a cam-phone etiquette guide (www.ce.org). Hopefully it will get in the hands of the cam-phone users.
The digital capture devices will continue to increase more than 100% over the next 3 years (figure 1).
Image, Video Storage Demand
According to the CEA the average user has 600 photos or 24.6 billion photos, which translates into 1.26GB or 52 TB. That storage requirement will grow to 7.2GB of storage per user or 295.6 TB in five years.
This fact and the growing number of MP3 audio players is one of the reasons hard drive sales have risen rapidly (figure 4) and that is going to continue as the supplier increase the storage density and speed. The drives range in size from 1-inch to 5.25" drives (MP3 units use the 1.8-inch units). In 1999 storage density was about 1GB per sq./in. Today 100GB density drives are available and the engineers are confident they can make another 100x improvement in the next five years.
While more than 250 million drives were sold last year and demand continues to rise (for all applications) few of the manufacturers are making any money. They and everyone in the storage industry is in a state of what Magnetic Media Information Services (MMIS) calls "profitless prosperity."
The Search For Profit
But the burner/media market is faced with "Profitless Prosperity" because the industry - and analysts - drank their own Kool-Aid. They forecast that you and your friends around the world would buy millions of burners and billions of discs. The bad part was they all felt they would capture 50% of the market so they ramped up production accordingly. Unfortunately the consumer isn't doing his/her part because we have an over supply and excess capacity.
So in a customer-driven market prices fall and companies struggle to stay afloat. They can't pass along cost increases and the margins become razor thin. Ricoh and Sony, both industry pioneers, have said they will join the ranks of firms that will contract burner and media production. There was a hope that 52x CD-R and 16x DVD+/-R media could command a higher price point to offset the major increases in the cost of polycarbonate resins that are used in making our discs.
No such luck. Industry leaders like Verbatim, MKM and CMC watch their costs closely and their production yields. Others are barely keeping their noses above water. Double layer (8.5GB) media yields slightly better margins but it is nothing to write home about.
So they search for the next huge profit potential which is blue ray technology for high def storage. The 20-30GB discs already have some challenges. First we have the BD (Blu-ray disc) group and the HD formats (again follow the money). But we don't see the technology gaining market importance until at least 2007 because:
The good news is by mid-year you will see a lot of DVRs (digital video recorders) and PC-based burners available. They will be expensive but that won't bother the techno-bragger in your neighborhood. In addition the media will become increasingly available (also at a premium). Oh yes, the DVRs will also have huge hard drives in them (200-500GB).
Consumers Vote With Dollars
That's what we thought!
In addition, media manufacturers continue to enhance their CD and DVD media. Recently one firm announced a media with a 300-year data life because of the introduction of a break-through reflective layer. The rest of the industry conservatively says their media provides a data life of 50-100 years. Frankly we would like to be around just to see if the media could be read in 300 years but if George Burns who played God twice couldn't do it we don't have much hope for ourselves.
Actually the reflective layer - while important - is only a part of the data integrity picture. You also have dyes, polycarbonate resins (the expensive stuff), protective coating and the interaction/performance of all of the components in the complete disc. Then what happens also if you accidentally scratch the surface?
Protecting Content, Environment
Looking into the future though there is some blue-ray disc technology that looks tempting. Pioneer has developed an option to the polycarbonate-based resin. Focusing on being environmentally friendly they have developed a cornstarch polymer (figure 5). Once you're through with your data you could consider making a burrito or taco. Or you could simply discard the disc and know it would find its way back into the environment naturally.
Now if we could only resolve the environmental issues surrounding PC/CE motherboards and monitors/TV units.
ADS and several other firms introduced network attached storage (NAS) storage servers (figure 6) which would allow you to centralize all of your centralize all of your music, photo and video content (as well as your data). It could then be accessed wirelessly by your TV set or one of the PCs you have around the house for listening, viewing or work.
The challenge right now is to add DAM (digital asset management) software that will help you keep track of the content that is on that 500GB - 1TB storage unit. The software is coming but right now it is still a pain. But by mid-year we'll see four-five very excellent and very economic solutions.
Then the big key will be your home's connectivity to the outside world. Both the "phone" and cable companies are hustling to be your one-stop content provider.
According to JupiterResearch the firms are already investing heavily to be your single solution but they have a lot of work to do in delivering broadband service to your home that delivers the QOS (quality of service) you are going to demand. While Korea, Japan, Taiwan and several European countries already have sufficient bandwidth to deliver streaming video; the U.S. still has a lot of work to do.
While Jupiter estimates that 7.5 million homes in the U.S. are wireless today, they project this will increase to 34.3 million by 2009.
The key will still be the quality - and ready availability -- of the content that will be delivered to your home. Remember the music and content development (Hollywood) industries won't make their products available until they are certain they get their "fair" share.
Blue-ray technology - why, when?
Isn't all the noise surrounding the beauty and consumer demand for high definition blue-ray storage fantastic? Consumers can't wait to get their hands on the camcorders…the burners…the media!
How many of your friends and neighbors can you count that have a digital camcorder? A PC with a burner? A set-top DVD recorder? A spindle of 50 DVDR media sitting on the shelf?
If you filled more than two hands you live in Silicon Valley which is an anomaly to the rest of the country, the rest of the world!
The hardware and media companies want people to get excited about it for two reasons - 1) royalty payments and 2) get out of the commodity market.
DVD burners, recorders and media have been forced into the commodity market even before they have been widely accepted because too many manufacturers are chasing too few customers.
Commodities = Volume + Low Profits
That's one of the reason's IBM sold off it's PC group to China's Lenovo. There were other reasons of course including a stronger relationship with the Chinese government and business communities. The move gives them a decided advantage in competing for high-end systems and solutions in this emerging market. So the lack of significant bottom line profits certainly made the decision a lot easier.
IBM simply acknowledged the fact that it is very difficult to make much of a profit from the manufacture of a commodity product. They came to the same decision several years ago when they sold their hard drive manufacturing operations to Hitachi.
Most of the consumer electronics products being sold today - VCRs, DVD players, analog TV sets, etc - are commodities. That's why firms like Philips, Sony, Panasonic and JVC have such a tough time maintaining their market position. Commodities simply don't lend themselves to strong market position or profits.
The challenge also faces DVD burner, DVD recorder and even recording media producers. These generally complex high-tech products should generate a respectable profit margin for their producers rather than profitless commodities. Unfortunately, the technology leaders and wanna-be followers put themselves into the position because they: A) believe the market forecasts are real and B) know that by acting rapidly they can get the largest possible market share. They all drink from the same Kool-Aid pitcher.
Too many producers push out too many products with a limited demand. When demand doesn't materialize they sell their huge inventories at whatever price they can get and another commodity product category emerges.
The salvation for many seems to be convincing the consuming public that they really want and need high definition video. The operative word here is convincing because while DVD was significantly better than VHS, high definition is just slightly better. Is it worth the investment of discarding your present TV set and the associated recording and playback devices?
In the long term, probably not.
Are you going to have a choice? In the long term, probably not.
Hollywood Wants High Def
Of course with high def media initially coming out at $20 - $40 per disc it is difficult to see why anyone would want to rip a movie.
The fact is that blue-ray technologies and high def won't be meaningful until 2006 and won't be mainstream until 2007. But that timespan isn't deterring the two camps because there will be huge amounts of money involved in licensing fees from the people who decide to produce players, drives, recorders, content and recordable media.
While the movie and content industry states that it wants to deliver a better consumer experience, they are really more concerned about having a technology that provides the 100% copy protection the industry demands. Studios are beginning to feel the bit of piracy. As quickly as possible they want to ensure they avoid the fate of CD sales and online file swapping.
For all of the parties involved it is all about the money.
Because the Blu-ray disc (BD) and high definition DVD (HD DVD) technologies are quite different a compromise technology probably won't be reached. One camp will have to blink so only one technology will be delivered to the marketplace. Or one of the manufacturers will have to do what Sony did with DVD burners - produce a solution that allows the consumer to play BD, HD-DVD, DVD and CD.
Such a box will be expensive during the early years so this could move volume consumer demand out even further. Without a single solution we could be looking at high def not really taking off until 2008? 2009?
But consumers have come to enjoy the universal solution that DVD provides. Writing and reading DVD+/-R and to a lesser extent DVD+/-RW gives the consumer to buy the lowest price, best quality media when he or she goes to the store and know their unit at home will record and play it.
Blu-ray Out First
What about PC maker # 1 - Dell - and #3 - Lenovo/IBM? What about the "other" PC producers? They'll go where the volume and the money is…DVD. And keep in mind that HP didn't say they would exclusively offer Blu-ray burners so expect to see most of the units going out the door with DVD burners.
With the street price for burners sitting at $70, DVD recorders at about $150, DVD players going for as little as $20 and DVDR media priced about 60 cents (and less) per disc we're only now seeing the consumer demand coming close to the volumes of devices/media being produced.
Since consumers vote with their credit cards and checkbooks, what are they going to do?
Buying Today? All of the good TV sets today are offered as HD-ready so that's a no-brainer.
But what will you purchase next year - DVD or a flavor of blue-ray technology? Take a look at the movie titles you want to buy or rent and what's your choice? DVD. Take a look at the TV content you just have to archive? Not a lot of high def! How many high def full-length videos do you plan to produce? For that matter, how many feature length DVDs?
Consumers are only now beginning to convert from VHS in large numbers. In many parts of the country and the world people are finally stepping up to DVD quality. High def is better? Is it that much better? Consumers - mainstream consumers - will probably wait for 2006 to make that call. If the hassling continues they may wait until 2007 or ????
Right now a Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad with slim DVD burner looks real good!
Anyone who struggled to make their way through the three football fields of fantasy we call CES would come away believing high definition TVs, camcorders, recorders/players are going to be snapped up and snapped together by any consumer who knows what is good for him or her.
The big problem is it still requires credit cards with a huge spending limit, a lot of patience or assistance and hurdles thrown in the way of the buyer by factions that focus more on patent payments than the consumer.
The big, beautiful screens from Sony, Samsung, LG, Pioneer, Panasonic and the newcomers from Taiwan and Mainland China you never heard of are spectacular. TV that sits on the counter or floor is rapidly giving way to video wall art. Trouble is they cost as much as a fine painting and lack the one thing you want … content worth watching (and that you can save).
Television and content providers are rapidly improving the number of HD programs and some you may even want to save with your DVR. No problem right now but what happens mid year when the obligatory broadcast flags go into effect and recorders must identify the flag before it can successfully record your high def program(s)?
Our first hurdle comes up because there are two approaches to the content protection (VCPS that puts money into Philips and HP coffers or CPRM which puts the money in the pockets of the 4C members). Which will be used is being hotly contested but either approach will require a new DVR if you want to save the content in high definition.
The decision on who wins is probably two years away which should coincide with when all of the high def components will really be in place.
The second hurdle (and huge noisemaker) at CES was the rivalry of words between the Blu-Ray (BD) and HD DVD camps. Some members of the media say that it is obvious that consumers want the high definition storage and that the rivalry is only hurting demand and sales. Especially since it appears that Hollywood studios are divided equally on the issue and no one wants to blink.
But a few analysts are skeptical of the immediate demand.
DVD was significantly better than VHS for viewing. HD is better than DVD but is it so much better that people will open their checkbooks immediately? Analysts from IDC, Gartner, Enderle Group and others feel true volumes for HD won't arrive for at least 4-5 years because "good enough" viewing will be sufficient until present systems fail and prices of new products come down dramatically.
IDC and Enderle both note that the majority of the country (and globe) still don't have DVD burners or DVD recorders even though prices have come down to $50 and $200 respectively. Now that DVDR media is well under $1 and DL (8.5GB) media is just now approaching $6 people are still looking for the killer app that makes it imperative that they record an hour of standard def video.
The low-cost burners and media have some people practicing what they jokingly call "burn and return," they are the minority. Even more though are beginning to master the recording of TV favorites onto their HD and then have transferred them to DVDR. But most of the DVR users simply struggle with the technology so they can watch shows when they want to watch them and then overwrite older video content when the HD gets full. And with hard drives getting bigger and cheaper that is probably going to continue.
For those who plunk down $3,000-plus for a high def screen they will have to add another $1,000 - $2,000 for a high def DVR and $25-plus per BD or HD disc. But then they only be able to watch them on their set since most manufacturers agree that sales volumes won't become significant until sets are below $1,000, DVRs are below $500, and media gets down to $2-$3.
Put those costs on top of the standards "discussions" and it becomes easy to understand why research firms are looking to 2010 for widespread high def sales. By then, "everyone" will have a good/cheap DVDR/RW based system using single and double layer media so it will take another 3-5 years before high def recorders/burners replace present products.
By then we'll again have the next great solution ready to battle over.
But there were high points of CES as Samsung, HP and Sony had strong offerings of complete media center PC-based solutions. While the big hitters and many of the other firms at the show spun tales of end-to-end home entertainment packages. Of course when Microsoft's demo at Gates keynote went blue screen it cast a serious doubt about how easy and reliable these plug-and-play solutions really were right now.
Many of the CES attending firms took a more modular - one step at a time -- approach meeting our home entertainment needs. You know, a HD-based media server, wireless link to the TV/stereo, DVR hardware/software that accessed the cable box or satellite receiver and other parts of the puzzle.
In fact, according to market analysts at In-Stat people are only now beginning to understand how they can purchase and use the new DVRs with interactive program guides. While most consumers according to a recent CEA survey don't have an audio or video media server, it is a product they are interested in acquiring over the next 2-3 years.
Because of the huge number of iPods and personal MP3 players that have been sold and will be sold this year we probably shouldn't have been surprised to how people wanted to use their media servers. But according to the CEA research, most of the respondents want the server more for audio than video use:
But when it comes to video content, the survey held few surprises:
Even Gates during an interview with the Washington Post said that Microsoft and the industry in general still had a lot of work to do to make the products user friendly enough for the majority of the consumers the industry wants to reach and sell.
IDC and Parks Associates, that has built its client roster by promoting the reality of the home network, both agree that the centralized and distributed entertainment system is still a long way from reality. We continue to focus on connecting computers, printers and scanners.
Like the home theater, the anywhere-in-the-house home entertainment system is still best installed by technically competent people with immense patience or dealer specialists. At CES we talked with Steve Wildstrom of BusinessWeek who just converted to an HD set and despite the struggle will expand his home network to home entertainment later this year. The task is pretty easy as long as you have two wireless networking specialists helping you (as we did).
Industry analysts and experts at Jon Peddie and Enderle Group had warned us that the wireless home entertainment network is easier to promote than it is to install, we understand why they both have gray hair. It is good. And it is getting better.
Hopefully by CES 2006 the installation will be fairly user friendly. Then all we'll have to worry about is having enough high def video content worth saving, which broadcast flag technology will be implemented and if it will allow us to simultaneously watch shows on several TV sets.
If not, you can probably kiss off the number one reason for struggling with a home entertainment management/enjoyment system.
That could be one hurdle content providers won't let us get over!