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Consumers Like HD But Want More Content

27 Apr, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Early adopters who bought one of the first two Toshiba HD DVD players had mixed comments about the official start of packaged media's high-def era.

Most gave the players high marks, both for quality and for value, but faulted the format's supporters for having just three movies in stores when the machines arrived April 18.

James Stevenson, a 22-year-old freelance journalist in Lincoln, Neb., said he bought the cheaper of the two Toshiba players “because I wanted to get a head start on the next-generation DVDs and give my HD-starved TV more content.”

While he was dismayed at the meager selection of software, he said the player made his standard DVDs look significantly better. “I'm thrilled with that result,” he said.

Lars Peterson, 29, of Cape Girardeau, Mo., agrees. “I bought one of the three units my Best Buy received, two of which are still sitting there a week later,” he said. “While I was checking out a cashier said, ‘What is this thing — I've never heard of it,' so it might be awhile before the general public catches on.”

Peterson said he bought two of the three launch titles, Serenity and The Last Samurai, and found the picture quality “breathtaking. It is some of the best TV content I have seen and I have seen a lot, working as a TV salesman, where I have to watch HD content all day long.”

But the real treat was watching standard DVDs on his new player. “I have owned at least 10 DVD players over the last eight years,” he said, “and I can honestly say the Toshiba player is the best. This is a huge plus, considering the lack of HD movies to currently choose from.”

Unlike Stevenson and Peterson, Bryan Ferriera, 33, of Peabody, Mass., wasn't fazed by the lack of software when he bought his Toshiba HD DVD player as soon as it came out.

“When DVD launched, Warner was limiting its releases to seven test-market cities, leaving me with exactly four Columbia TriStar titles to choose from,” he said. “Nine years later, HD DVD launches with a similarly limited number of releases. That's history repeating itself. And it might be a good omen, since DVD really took off from there. Also, I like starting over with new formats and growing a collection slowly over time as more and more titles come out. This doesn't bother me one bit.”

The $64,000 question to consumers: What about Blu-ray Disc? Most early adopters interviewed for this story say they also will buy Blu-ray players when they become available in June, although some balked at the higher prices — despite conventional wisdom that for early adopters price is generally not a factor.

“Honestly, I am turned off by the higher price tags,” Ferreira said. “Now that HD DVD is out, why would anyone want to pay at least double the price of the HD-A1 to get the same quality?”

“I actually believe Blu-ray is a better technology, but not at twice the price,” said Daniel Rainey, 31, of Tuscaloosa, Ala. “I will buy Blu-ray if they win the war, but that Betamax war lasted eight years before VHS started winning. I ain't waiting that long.”

Retailer Robert Zohn, who owns Value Electronics in Scarsdale, N.Y., says he took advance orders for 316 Toshiba players, 223 of them the cheaper HD-AI and 93 the pricier ($799) HD-XA1. He's now on back order for more than 100 additional players, having sold out his initial allotment on day one.

“We will carry Blu-ray, but our full support and dedication is to the HD DVD format,” says Zohn, who does the bulk of his sales online. “However, if sales stay as brisk as they have been and if Toshiba can deliver enough players, I believe the format war will end before Blu-ray ships its first player.”

Neil Brimelow of Bay St. Louis, Mass., begs to differ. He said bought his Toshiba player the Saturday before the official April 18 launch “right when it came in on the FedEx truck, still with the Saturday delivery stickers on the boxes.”

“Unfortunately, I still had to wait until Tuesday to get the software, and in the case of HD DVD, it is software,” he said. “There have been many complaints about load times and boot-up times, and the reason is that the HD DVD player is essentially a computer disguised as a piece of consumer electronics.”

Further dampening his enthusiasm, he said, was the “anemic” selection of films available in the HD DVD format. “There's no real ‘killer ap' to get anyone excited to rush out and buy a player,” he said. “The picture quality and sound quality are quite amazing, definitely a step up from standard DVD, but that step-up is diminished when you are forced to watch movies that are several years old.”

Brimelow wound up returning his HD DVD player to Best Buy a week after he bought it. “Why? I hate being on the short end of the stick, and this first player by Toshiba is just that,” he said, citing the fact that the player only supports Dolby Digital HD 2.0. “I was an early adopter when DVD came out nine years ago and paid the same price, roughly, for my first player. But I did not have to worry about it being obsolete coming out of the starting gate, as is the problem with this Toshiba.

“Not having full Dolby HD 5.1 support, when the HD DVD spec calls for that, is just plain stupid.”

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