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Why Aren't Computer Makers All Over Blu-ray Disc?

8 Sep, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

You've got to hand it to Toshiba. The consumer electronics giant, which was behind the ill-fated HD DVD format, has at last given up its attempt to kill Blu-ray Disc with its fancy DVD "upconverters" and is now going Blu itself. What's more, the company also is coming out with a new laptop, the Satellite P500, that's equipped with a BD-RW drive.

Kudos to Toshiba on both counts, but especially for the latter.

By coming out with a set-top Blu-ray Disc player, Toshiba is a definite latecomer. But by producing a Blu-ray Disc laptop, scheduled to hit stores in the fourth quarter, the company is returning to the leadership role it once commanded in the CE industry back in the early days of DVD.

Toshiba, you will recall, was the big driving force behind DVD, at least on the CE end, working with Warner Home Video to aggressively promote and market the format to consumers. Getting other computer makers on board, early in the game, was as significant a step as vanquishing Divx, the pay-per-play variant championed by the now-defunct Circuit City retail chain, so that there was only one type of set-top DVD player on the market.

With Blu-ray Disc, virtually every CE manufacturer is now on board. But computer makers are slow to the table this time around, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. You may recall that in early September, the technology research firm iSuppli estimated that only 3.6% of computers shipped this year, on a worldwide basis, have Blu-ray Disc drives. And even by 2013, four whole years from now, the total will only be 16.3%.

The reasons, according to various analysts, include price--computer prices are now so low that adding a Blu-ray Disc drive could easily double the total sales price--and the fact that the Blu-ray Disc picture is so good that most people won't want to watch Blu-ray movies on their computers. 

What's more, analysts note, DVD drives had a unique selling proposition because the packaged-media format DVD replaced, VHS, could never be viewed on a computer. So it was a novelty that brought added value. If you bought a computer with a DVD drive, you could not only only store a lot more data, but you could also--drum roll, please--watch movies!

Blu-ray drives, on the other hand, will have to live or die by data storage alone--and according to industry wisdom that's just not enough, at least not now, not even in 2013.

I disagree, and I urge computer manufacturers to go Blu, and go Blu in a big way, pronto. More and more people I know are burning their own home-video DVDs at home, and they're getting tired of only being able to put an hour or so of quality footage on a disc. I would argue that the storage question is a big deal; when DVD came out 12 years ago there was no such thing as a multi-gigabyte hard drive, and most of us still shot home movies on camcorders that used tape instead of enormous built-in hard drives.

And whatever happened to computers being on the cutting edge of technology? IT companies are supposed to lead us, not lag behind everyone else. The iSuppli research I saw also predicts annual set-top Blu-ray Disc player sales will rise from 9.1 million this year to 42.1 million by the end of 2013. That means a vast body of consumers will be aware of Blu-ray Disc. And you're going to tell them they can't get that in their computers?

Come on, guys. Get real. If Toshiba can suck it up and go Blu, so can you.

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