14 Responses

  1. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price April 9, 2008 at 12:39 am |
  2. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 1:13 am |

    What will stop this – for now – is bandwidth. The only people with a hope in hell of streaming a real HD movie are those with top-end FiOS connections. All of the downloadable services – Apple TV, Xbox 260, VUDU – that *claim* HD content are REALLY stretching it. HD is more than just 720p or better resolution, it implies some level of quality. Consider than the bitrate of HD DVD was 36Mbps, and the bitrate of BD is 54Mbps. On BD the video stream alone has 40Mbps reserved.

    Now consider that VUDU claims to be able to stream HD on a connection of 4Mbps. Using the *exact same codec*. That means compression of up to 10x as much as the same content on BD.

    And if you check around, sites like Gizmodo have done comparisons of DVD vs. VUDU vs. Apple TV vs. BD, and the quality difference is clearly visible. Even the services that *don’t* do real-time streaming, like Apple TV and Xbox 360, still crank the compression way up to keep download times and storage needs down. The picture from those services doesn’t match HD DVD or BD. In some cases it is had to see an advantage over a well-encoded DVD and a good upscaler.

    So bandwidth is going to be the big roadblock to real quality HD content over broadband, at least for a while yet. I do believe that downloads and streaming will be the next generation, and BD is the last of the discs, but I think we’re looking past 10 years out.

    The other thing is that to do what you say you’d pretty much need an HD DVD deck – minus the blue laser. Well, you could dump the optical drive entirely – but history shows consumers do not adopt download-only devices. Akimbo and Moviebeam died, and VUDU is so far failing to set a new precedent. And you’d need the optical drive for the DVD in your scheme anyway. So you can use a standard optical drive and save some of the cost by dropping the blue laser. But that’s not the only expensive component, you’ll still need the more powerful SoC to handle HDi as well as H.264/VC-1 decoding, and you’ll need the increased memory for execution. Basically you need everything from an HD DVD player – except the blue laser pickup. So it is going to be a more expensive player.

    If you do streaming then it is only usable to those with high speed broadband, and for HD anything less than 4Mbps is probably going to look terrible. VUDU’s quality is about as low as you’d want to go. If you want higher quality you could avoid streaming and use the download and play system used by ATV & 360 (and Unbox on TiVo), which would allow you to download a larger file in longer than real-time, but then you need to put storage in the box, which is another component expense.

    And then you’ve got to sell this box into a market with established players. Apple TV is already out there, of course. Microsoft has downloads to the 360 and they have stated they plan to expand that. Sony has announced they’ll be selling downloads for the PS3. TiVo has Amazon Unbox, which is currently SD but will be adding HD (and they will be adding movies from Jaman.com as well). Netflix has announced deals to bring their (SD) streaming service to multiple devices this year. VUDU is a download-only player. XStreamHD is supposed to launch this year as another player (satellite & broadband hybrid HD system). So you’d have to convince someone to buy the new player instead of buying a 360 – which plays DVD & HD downloads (and I think will get a BD add-on in time) and is a game platform, or a PS3 (DVD, BD, games, and HD downloads coming).

    While the concept is technologically possible in theory, using streaming greatly limits the potential userbase for the foreseeable future. Using download and play expands the potential userbase, but raises the product costs. And in either case there will be a lot of competition.

    All that aside, you wouldn’t really need to put HDi on the DVD at all. HDi isn’t needed, or even desirable, just to enable the downloading. You could put a standard DVD-ROM track on the disc with nothing more than an appropriately formatted license key file that the player would use to download the HD version of the content – including the HDi code to go with it. No reason to make the DVD content overly complex, if you’re going to download the content anyway you may as well download it all. And that is better anyway as it allows for updates to the HDi application, and it means no trade-offs to free more space for the HDi code on the disc.

  3. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 1:20 am |

    OH – I meant to say that I know you listed the 360 as one potential host platform. But MS already has their own MS Live download service and they plan to grow that as a revenue base. I don’t know that they’d be open to giving that up to allow an ‘open’ download system where they don’t get any cut of the revenue from the downloads. They’ve gone on record as saying they only backed HD DVD to slow adoption of HD media because they see downloads as the next big market and they want to be a player in that market. Helping establish a scheme that cut them out of the picture doesn’t seem to fit in with their plans. And they’re already using HDi for their own materials.

  4. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price April 9, 2008 at 3:50 am |

    MS already has Live downloads, true, but remember, the concept of HDi is not to replace digital downloads… it’s to give DVD the physical appearance of having HD on the disc. To Microsoft, the HDi version of a movie would be a physical, not digital download.

    I know that’s a hard concept to grasp, but what I mean is, Microsoft will put a pragmatic view of HDi before the technical reality that they are both digital download systems.

    After all, Microsoft is a forerunner of WG-12, the working group to add HDi to DVD. They want this to happen, they’re onboard.

    Which begs the question, why. Why would Microsoft say they back HD DVD only to slow Blu-Ray, and then embrace HDi? I would say the answer to that is… the Video Marketplace isn’t selling well at all.

    In Microsoft’s view, it would be better for DVD to revive and get people watching the HDi track on an Xbox 360, rather than a BD movie on a PS3. Then, they’re on an Xbox 360 and can buy video on demand… that won’t fly if they are sitting in front of a PS3.

    The quality aspect really isn’t a concern… neither is bandwidth. There’s nothing stopping an HDi movie from streaming as well as an iTunes rental. All HDi players will have H.264 capability. Just like HD DVD did. Like I said, only one player in a household needs to be HDi-ready to sell folks on it being their preferred HD platform.

    And, with Windows, Mac, Xbox 360, Toshiba, and Panasonic players all being at that level… odds are most people will be able to get an HDi player easily if they don’t have one already.

  5. Daniel H.
    Daniel H. April 9, 2008 at 4:50 am |

    I gotta say, the dialogue between Megazone and Chris is hard to follow, but very interesting because neither of you attack each other.

    Chris – have you hired Megazone yet? If not, why not?

  6. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price April 9, 2008 at 4:59 am |

    Anyone can apply to be a staff member on PhoneNews.com, you just have to fill out an application using the Jobs link at the bottom of the site.

    When things are in working groups, they can change at a moment’s notice… that means we have to bring up just about every hypothetical situation to get a full view. It’s really a matter of what hypotheticals you think are more likely than the others.

    For example, I think it’s very likely that DVD will emerge as an HD format of its own when HDi gets added onto it. I can’t speak for others, but I can certainly see why many think it’s a long shot for the format. However, DVD doesn’t really have much to lose, and it would win over buyers like me that demand backwards compatibility, alongside HD quality video.

    The real problem though aren’t these formats… it’s the DMCA. Everyone in Congress agrees that I should be able to take my HD DVD and put it on my iPhone, or burn it to Blu-Ray, or make a copy that will work in my older DVD player. Legally however, nobody is allowed to make the tools to do that right now… despite fair use rights clearly saying I should be able to.

    Congress must pass the 2007 Fair Use Act and amend it to allow for clearly defined personal placeshifting protections.

  7. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 12:32 pm |

    Daniel – Actually I was just laid off on the 28th – but Sling Media hired me on the 7th. It is a contract right now, but I’m hoping it goes permanent. Coincidentally I’ll be running the mobile betas.

    I like seeing Chris’s ideas about where the formats can go, and while I have a different opinion I don’t think attacking Chris is the best way to convey that. 🙂 I know, that’s pretty shocking on the Internet these days, especially if you frequent the comments on the likes of Engadget or Gizmodo. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both sites, but a lot of the commentors seem to lack… finesse, to put it politely.)

  8. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 12:58 pm |

    Chris – Perhaps MS sees DVD with HDi as a spoiler to slow the adoption of Blu-ray until technology makes downloads more practical – both high quality *and* fast access, instead of having to pick one.

    The problem with HD content streaming is, as I said, quality. VUDU effectively streams it. They use P2P-style transfers to download the data once you start watching the movie. Their trick for instant access is they cache the first X minutes of all the movies on the local disc, so you start watching the local cache while it scrambles to backfill the movie. They use H.264 and require 4Mbps download speeds for real-time access, otherwise it fails over to a download-and-then-watch system. But side-by-side comparisons shows that VUDU’s quality suffers compared to other options, and can’t hold a candle to HD DVD or BD. In some cases it is hard to see an advantage over an upscaled DVD.

    So you really have to consider 4Mbps bitrates as the bare minimum, and really you need higher bitrates for better quality. Apple and MS save some space by using 720p instead of 1080p encoded content, which is one sacrifice right there. And even though they user a download then watch model, and generally higher bitrates, they still compress their content several times more than HD DVD or BD with the corresponding loss of quality.

    For the HDi download system to catch on it will need to offer a sufficient advantage over DVD, or people are just going to stick with the DVD. So you can’t compromise too much, or an upscaling DVD player becomes a decent option instead. Conversely you’re not going to match HD DVD, let along BD, on bitrate. Definitely not on streaming, not for many years, and even on a download-then-watch model it would result in downloads that could take upwards of 10 hours per each hour of content for most broadband users. That’s not viable either, clearly.

    So you’d have to find some balance between having enough of a quality improvement to make it worth while while not taking so long to download as to be impractical.

    On the studio side, you have to give the studios some incentive to adopt the new standard. They’re already making DVD and BD. So their option is to add a third spec, this DVD 2.0, or to replace DVD with DVD 2.0.

    Adding DVD 2.0 as a third spec brings a lot of costs with it – another production line, another SKU to handle, another standard to author to (even if it can reuse some of the DVD work), etc. The benefit would be being able to continue selling DVD cheaply without raising the price to cover for the additional work of DVD 2.0.

    If they replace DVD with DVD 2.0 then they stick with two lines and two SKUs, but then they have the choice of raising DVD prices in an already depressed and competitive market, or sucking up the costs and hoping that the ‘value-add’ increases sales organically to help offset them

    The latter option would be better for the format because it would Trojan Horse the DVD 2.0 tech into the market. If users have the option of buying DVD or a slightly more expensive DVD 2.0 (or a still more expensive BD) then you have a chicken and egg problem. Most users will balk at buying the higher priced disc without having a player to use the features, but they’d also balk at buying a new DVD 2.0 player if there isn’t enough content to use in it. If by buying a ‘DVD’ they just so happen to be buying DVD 2.0 as well, then eventually more people will opt to get a player to take advantage of their collection.

    Though a disc-based download solution does sound a lot like DIVX (the disc, not the codec). With DIVX you bought the disc but paid for access to the content on the disc, and it had to check with the mothership each time. With DVD 2.0 you’d buy the disc which would give you access to the content on the mothership which it would have to check with each time.

    And you lose the convenience of a pure-play download service. I use Amazon Unbox on my TiVo semi-regularly, even though it is SD, because it is convenient. Point and click and I have a download that I can watch in a short time. I don’t have to wait for the disc to come in the mail, or pay retail pricing to buy it locally. (I do buy Blu-ray discs too, but that’s a different kind of purchase, not an impulse buy like Unbox.)

    So if this HDi download system were setup, I would foresee it *very* quickly fracturing just like DIVX did. DIVX ended up with ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’ levels, on top of the basic DIVX. Where you could buy permanent access to a title, etc.

    Once you have the downloadable content anyway, why not offer it as a pure-play pay-to-download service without the need to buy the disc in the first place? It’d certainly increase your potential sales.

    Maybe THAT is what MS is looking at – such a system could be a two-pronged attack on BD. First you come out with ‘Advanced’ versions of DVD to slow BD adoption, then you use it as a way to train users to download content to help kickstart the industry and kill off media entirely in the long run.

  9. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    BTW, Chris, it would be great if you had a ‘subscribe to comments’ option to make it easier to follow and participate in these exchanges. Since you use WP now, this plug-in works nicely: http://txfx.net/code/wordpress/subscribe-to-comments/

    I use it at Gizmo Lovers, and I know TiVo Blog and Zatz Not Funny both use it too. These are the plug-ins I’m currently using: http://www.gizmolovers.com/plugins/

  10. MegaZone
    MegaZone April 9, 2008 at 1:49 pm |

    One thing I’m curious about – you’ve repeatedly mentioned Panasonic as being interested in HDi. Why do you feel that is the case? To my knowledge Panasonic had no stake in developing HDi – it was almost entirely Microsoft and Toshiba, with input from the studios as to requirements. Panasonic has never used HDi in their own products, to my knowledge, and they produce Blu-ray players using BD-J.

    Has Panasonic made some statement relative to HDi?

  11. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price April 9, 2008 at 7:54 pm |

    From what I’ve heard, Panasonic is willing to augment their high-end DVD players with HDi. They aren’t involved in the spec, but they’re willing to adopt it. I don’t know if they’re an official member of WG-12 though… they’re certainly receptive to it from what sources tell me.

    Certainly Panasonic wouldn’t be dumping Blu-Ray for HDi, I think they’re just looking to add value to their DVD fleet.

  12. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price April 10, 2008 at 11:13 am |

    We will be deploying a subscribe-to-comments plugin in the future, it’s in the cards for here and PhoneNews.com.

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