Will Flash Trump High-Def DVDs?

All the pundits are still trying to handicap the race between the two blue laser high-definition DVD technologies. (For the record, this pundit has already picked HD DVD as the eventual winner over Blu-ray.) At the USDC investors’ conference for displays last week in New York City, my friend and colleague Pete Putman posed an interesting thought; maybe Flash memory will trump the new DVDs entirely. This thought was prompted by the fact that he had his presentation loaded onto a high-capacity Flash drive.

Pete’s idea has a lot going for it. Today, you can buy a 16 GB Flash drive for under $150, and the prices are still plummeting. This exceeds the capacity of a single layer HD DVD disc, and you can use it over and over again. Now that more and more homes have high-speed broadband Internet connections, it is practical to download HD movies and other content. Instead of waiting for Netflix or Blockbuster to mail you your next movie rental, you just pop in a Flash card and set the file to download from a rental service overnight while you sleep or during the day while you’re at work. The rental companies save on inventory and postage, and the movie you want will never be out of stock. After you watch the movie, you just download the next one, replacing the first one on your memory card. Any computer can be used to download the movie.

I used to think that better compression would make standard red laser DVDs a winning way to distribute high-definition movies, but this idea sounds better. You have to spend $500 to $1,000 just to buy a high-def DVD player, and the idea of using Flash memory instead of discs makes a lot of sense. I still think it’s too early to buy either type of blue laser DVD player, and if Pete’s idea gains traction, you might never buy one.