High-Def DVD Hybrids in PCs

A report out yesterday from ABI Research predicts that “universal” high-definition DVD drives will account for two-thirds of the high-definition DVD drives in desktop PCs and notebook computers in 2012. Part of this prediction is based on the expectation that by 2009, hybrid drives that can read both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs will be available for about the same cost as a Blu-ray only drive. Citing consumer confusion about which format will ultimately win, the company predicts that “all of the above” will be the answer.

It’s an interesting interpretation, but I think it’s flawed. I’ve been as big a fan of multi-format drives as anyone over the years; I was almost alone in my support for the read/write/erase PD format that preceeded CD-R and CD-RW. I’ve always liked the DVD drives that handle DVD-RAM (which is another format that few others seem to have championed) as well as DVD+/-R/RW. But these combo drives have not been compelling winners in the marketplace. You cannot point to the success of the CD+/-R/RW and DVD+/-R/RW drives as an indication that the high-def combos will succeed; the multiple formats that they support are nearly identical, and far less different than Blu-ray is from HD DVD.

Instead, let’s look through the other end of the telescope. If a combo drive will be about the same price as the Blu-ray only drive, that implies that the Blu-ray components will be the expensive parts. It stands to reason that the HD DVD costs will be a small fraction of the total. If this means that an HD DVD drive can be built for half the price of the combo, then this could become a significant factor. The difference between a $300 and a $150 component in a $2,000 computer does not make a lot of difference, and I can see consumers choosing the more expensive option as a “future proofing” decision. However, if we’re talking about a computer that costs $200 without the drive, the difference is a lot bigger and I expect that most consumers will choose the $350 configuration over the $500 version. Wouldn’t you?

Even if only half the consumers make the choice based on total dollars, that still puts a few million PC users in the HD DVD only camp, and don’t forget that there’s a reason that all these desktop monitors and notebook screens are in wide format. People are using them to watch movies. And do you think that the major studios will stick with their allegience to Blu-ray for long when half the computer users in the country won’t be able to watch their movies? I expect them to fold like a cheap suit and start publishing in HD DVD as well as Blu-ray. (Sony will likely hold out to the end, but that’s because their so invested in Blu-ray’s success.)

So I’ll add the future of high-def drives on PCs and notebooks to my growing evidence that HD DVD will be the ultimate winner. If nothing else, I’ve been consistent on this one.

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