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Planned Obsolescence Could Backfire, Big Time

16 Aug, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

I've been saying for a while that all this attention on the format war for a high-definition optical disc is misdirected. While so many folks in the industry worry that taking two HD formats to market will confuse consumers and slow the uptake for a next-generation DVD, I don't think a unified front going to market will matter. I think most consumers just won't care.

Now JupiterResearch has released a study that supports my point. The innocuous report title, “Next-Generation DVD, Conflicting Formats Will Create Confusion and Slow Adoption,” seems to state what everyone in the industry regards as obvious.

But the real value of the report, built on consumer surveys, is ranking what consumers think is important about a new format. And guess what? The two things consumers are most concerned about are precisely the things the studios hope they'll forget when they see a dazzling new format: price and backward compatibility.

Fifty-seven percent of Web-savvy consumers in the United States told Jupiter they were most concerned about keeping the price down; 54 percent said they want backward compatibility. The next-closest concern was scratch-resistant discs, at 28 percent.

Does anyone else see a pattern here? All of the top consumer concerns are about extending the life of the gear they have, while the companies want them to replace it whether they need to or not.

On top of that, I think a lot of early adopters felt burned when they bought one edition of a title and then, within weeks, another, more feature-heavy edition of the same title was released. Some studios really abused the double-dipping privilege, and I'm not sure the bad taste of that has washed away yet. I wonder, for example, how many copies of Terminator 2 will sell in a high-def format?

The hype battle between the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD camps is starting to look more like a telethon than a promotion: Instead of offering consumers real value and touting cool features, each camp is begging for business, telling us we should want their white elephant more than the other guy's.

No matter what format prevails, or how long it takes to do it, high-def will fall flat if players stay out of most consumers' price ranges for very long. And software? The other day, Movie Gallery CEO Joe Malugen said the debut pricing is expected to be about $30-$35 per disc.

Speaking as a consumer, if anyone wants me to pay that much for a single-title disc ever again, it had better tuck me in, kiss me good night and turn the lights out after the show is over.

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