Could it be a Blue Christmas for Blu-ray?
This holiday buying season is going to be the first big market challenge for
Blu-ray. This will be Blu-ray's first holiday season as the unquestioned HD
format leader, but with the economy in the state that it is, will it be able to
actually manage to assert itself as the dominant video format and finally
overtake DVDs? I'm having my doubts, and I'm not the only one. A study recently
released by ABI Research indicates that 47 percent of holiday buyers expect to
decrease their spending from previous years and a comparatively low 40 percent
expect to spend the same amount. Specifically on the Blu-ray front, the research
found that only 8 percent of holiday buyers were considering the upgrade to a
Blu-ray player, despite the fact that prices have reached the sub-200 dollar
One of the biggest problems? The cost. Even though the Blu-ray players have
dropped in price, in order to actually get the benefit of Blu-ray you need to
own an HDTV, which is still a very expensive investment (though Sharp has
unveiled an HDTV with a Blu-ray recorder built in). Then when you consider that
each Blu-ray movie costs about double the price of a DVD the numbers don't add
up in Blu-ray's favor. Of course, the cost wouldn't be
as much of a problem if the perceived value of Blu-ray was higher. Unfortunately
for Blu-ray, most people still don't see the change in quality between DVD and
Blu-ray to be significant enough to be worth the cost. Many of those that
already have an HDTV are perfectly happy with the quality of the DVDs they
Then there's the Netflix factor. Convenience is of high importance, and it
doesn't get much more convenient than streaming Netflix movies through a
computer, TiVo, Roku box, or Xbox 360. Even Blockbuster is joining in,
introducing its own set-top box to stream movies straight to your TV. Sure, it
isn't in HD like a Blu-ray movie, but it's quick, cheap, and easy, all of which
are highly valued features. Acknowledged, Netflix has pledged to support Blu-ray,
so you'll be able to get it if you want it.
Since Thanksgiving is near and it's the time for family, I'll end with a second
opinion from my cousin. He's an avid movie watcher, has an HDTV, and plans to
buy a Blu-ray player. "But not yet," he told me. "It's something that I want,
but not something that I need. I'm going to wait until it's the industry
standard or they stop making DVDs." Unfortunately for Blu-ray proponents, he has
lots of company.
Samsung to launch new LCD, Plasma TV models
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd will unveil its new Series 8 and 7 Full HD LCD
and Plasma TVs, in Qatar. This new premium lineup sets a new standard for media
solution and multimedia home entertainment. New
product offerings that will be on show in the Qatari market go beyond pure
technological advancement, as Samsung places new emphasis on value-added
contents and services, such as the unique InfoLive function in the 7 and 8
series TVs. InfoLive allows viewers access to streaming news, weather and stock
info directly through the internet. The TVs are also shipped with a variety of
professionally created content, such as an art gallery, cooking and yoga
programmes, and games.
“The new series 8 and 7 TVs offer an even more sophisticated crystal design with
an inlaid pattern as well as genuine stylishness, made possible by a slim design
and bezel,” said B J Kim, General Manager, AV Division, Samsung Gulf
Electronics. “Samsung has strengthened its technological and stylish leadership
in the Audio Visual industry by becoming the number one TV maker in the world.
We are happy to launch in Qatar our new technology with the Series 8 and 7 to
the rest of the region,” added Kim. The Peninsula
Samsung incorporates its stunning new crystal design that has been so well
received by consumers in Series 8 TVs (46, and 52 inches). The key upgrade is a
startling 50% reduction in thickness, producing a slim and narrow bezel
measuring just 44.5mm.
Series 7 is filled with the type of innovative features and advancements
required by the industry’s most tech-savvy consumers who enjoy a range of
self-created or downloaded multimedia content as well as Media Solution with HD
peripheral devices. Recognizing that TVs are no longer
just for viewing broadcasts, Samsung has installed Media Solution features such
as the USB connection, through which users can instantly enjoy their photos and
downloaded content. The innovative InfoLive feature brings informative content
feeds to the TV, enabling users to quickly scroll through news, weather and
stock quotes in real time.
Flat TV Sales Are Up, But Slowing
Despite the weakened economy, television sales continued to climb in the
third quarter, with LCD and plasma TVs seeing the greatest gains, according to
TV shipments from manufacturers to North American retailers grew 6 percent from
last quarter and 12 percent from last year to 10 million units.
LCD and plasma TVs were most popular among consumers, seeing 21 percent
and 20 percent gains respectively from last year. However, the firm also viewed
the combined sales in a negative light, noting that during the previous six
quarters, growth was at least 41% percent on a unit basis. During the third
quarter, combined flat panel TV shipments in North America were up only 21
Sales of rear-projection TVs saw a 50 percent decline over the last year, but
that decline was not as steep as expected due to consumers looking for an
inexpensive digital TV in advance of February's DTV transition.
The results are stronger than expected, DisplaySearch said. It "seems to
indicate that retailers maintained strong purchasing levels during the first
couple of months during the quarter, before the retail demand difficulties
emerged during the latter weeks of September."
Among manufacturers, Samsung was on top for sales for flat-panel and LCD TV
sales, capturing 19.4 percent and 18.8 percent of the market, respectively.
Panasonic was number one in plasma TV sales with 39 percent.
Rounding out the top three for flat-panel and LDC sales were Sony and Sharp,
while Samsung and Vizio took the number two and three spots for plasma TV sales.
Sharp had the strongest growth from the last quarter among the top five
flat panel TV brands at 41 percent. Sony and Samsung, meanwhile, were the only
brands to ship more than a million units during the quarter.
Sony Brings Blu-ray Technology to New CDs
Watching a movie on a Blu-ray Disc is certainly more enjoyable than a regular
DVD, and now Sony wants to bring the same kind of enjoyment to audio CDs as
well. Using the same Blu-ray technology underpinning movie discs and PS3 games
is a new audio CD that offers higher sound quality.
Dubbed the Blu-spec CD, this new disc standard makes use of a new structure of
some kind. New machines are used to manufacture the discs and the resulting
master CDs are said to be of higher quality. The copies of the master disc, not
surprisingly, are better too.
While your regular DVD drive can't handle Blu-ray Discs, Sony says that the new
Blu-spec CD will be backwards compatible with existing conventional CD players.
This means that you won't have to invest in a whole new set of hardware for your
home theatre or car stereo, though I imagine that you will need new hardware to
take full advantage of the new benefits.
Considering that more and more people are moving toward digital delivery, I
don't know if going with a new disc media for the music industry is such a
bright idea. People are growing accustomed to using services like iTunes for
their music, so why would they fork out the extra money for a hopped-up CD? Can
you even tell the difference on a relatively inexpensive stereo system?
The first set of Blu-spec CDs are expected to his Japanese streets on
Christmas Eve. Sony will have discs with classical music, Aerosmith, Miles
Davis, and more. MSRP on a music Blu-spec CD is about $25.
Blu-ray Holiday Primer
This holiday season marks the first in which
consumers interested in replacing old, standard-definition DVD collections with
high-definition discs and players have a clear choice. Earlier this year, Sony's
pet project, Blu-ray, vanquished HD-DVD and became the industry standard for
high-definition movies as studios like Warner, Universal and Paramount lined up
Yet even though there are no longer two competing formats, there are plenty of
Blu-ray options that can leave shoppers scratching their heads. Much like how
high-definition televisions are far more complicated than their
standard-definition predecessors, Blu-ray introduces a number of new features
and variables to consider when seeking the right player for your needs.
In Pictures: 10 Blu-ray Players And Technologies
First, let's explore what makes Blu-ray discs superior to traditional DVDs.
Although Blu-ray discs and DVDs are the same size (120 mm in diameter), Blu-ray
discs are capable of holding more data. Data--like movies, music and other
files--are burned onto DVDs and Blu-ray discs using a laser that etches tiny
pits onto the surface of the disc. A blue laser, with a wavelength of 405
nanometers, etches tiny pits onto the surface of a Blu-ray disc. The wavelength
of a red laser, used to burn DVDs, is 650 nanometers. The smaller wavelength of
a Blu-ray laser makes smaller pits, leaving room for more pits--and thus more
This minute difference accounts for Blu-ray's substantial advantage in capacity
over DVDs. A single-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 25 GB of data and dual-layer
discs can hold up to 50 GB, while single- and dual-layer DVDs are limited to 4.7
GB and 8.5 GB, respectively. This makes Blu-ray discs well-suited to hold the
vast amounts of data required to properly display a movie in high-definition.
While you could burn HD content to a DVD, it would be impossible to hold more
than a few minutes on a single disc, making it less than ideal for HD feature
films or television shows.
Even with an HD movie on it, Blu-ray discs have a lot of space left over, and
content producers are taking advantage of this available capacity with new
multimedia and interactive elements. Some Blu-ray titles have picture-in-picture
commentaries, where you can see the directors and actors providing
behind-the-scenes insight on the film. Others Blu-ray
discs allow users to download additional content via an Internet connection and
store it on the player's built-in memory. The rub is not every Blu-ray disc
player is capable of utilizing these features. Your ability to access them
depends on what version, or "profile," of firmware your player has.
There are three major Blu-ray player profiles: Profile 1.0, Profile 1.1 and
Profile 2.0. The first, Profile 1.0, was called the
"grace period" profile, meant to be a bare-bones set of criteria that
manufacturers had to meet on the first wave of Blu-ray players. Devices with
Profile 1.0 could play back the disc's content and nothing else.
This profile was phased out after November of 2007, so it's rare to find
a Profile 1.0 player in a retail store. But if you're buying second hand on eBay
or Craigslist, make sure to watch out for these models if you're not interested
in the basic Blu-ray package. If you are looking for a real cheap, no-frills
player, however, the year-old Sharp BD-HP20U is still being sold and offers
Profile 1.0 for just around $250.
Profile 1.1 is confusingly referred to as the "Final Standard Profile," though
it is by no means the last, most recent or most versatile Blu-ray profile
available. It's more commonly referred to as "Bonus View," which is the name of
the picture-in-picture functionality.
Profile 1.1 players are readily available in stores and some, like the Samsung
BD-P1500 ($299), can be upgraded to Profile 2.0 with a firmware update.
Unfortunately, the Profile 2.0 requirement of an Ethernet input means that any
Profile 1.1 player that lacks this hardware is incapable of being updated to
Profile 2.0. For most consumers, Profile 1.1 is probably the smartest pick,
especially since many of the advertised advantages of Profile 2.0 have yet been
Profile 2.0 is the apex of current Blu-ray technology. Profile 2.0 players
feature BonusView and throw in BD-Live, the ability to access updates and
additional content on the Internet via the player's built-in Ethernet port.
These players also come with at least 1 GB of internal storage to hold
downloadable content. Though BD-Live special features are few and far between at
this point, the growing proliferation of Profile 2.0 players is incentive for
studios to make their discs more appealing with new content.
The PlayStation 3 (80 GB, $399) was the first Blu-ray disc player to feature
Profile 2.0, and is still perhaps the best value 2.0 player, as it provides not
only Blu-ray playback, but access to a large library of video games, as well as
media center extender capabilities for a relatively low price. If you're more
interested in a stand-alone player, Panasonic's DMP-BD35 ($299) is a competent
Profile 2.0 player capable of providing excellent high-definition playback fro
Blu-ray discs, and features an SD-card slot so you can access the AVCHD videos
produced by modern high-definition camcorders.
While Blu-ray should be celebrating its dominance as the sole high-definition
home video media on the market, critics are already speculating about its
demise, putting plenty of fear in consumers still worried about betting on a
losing horse. Significant threats to Blu-ray include upscaling DVD players,
which improve the quality of standard-definition DVDs for use on HDTVs, and the
emergence of video-download services from Netflix,
iTunes and Amazon.com.
Though neither upscaling DVD players nor video-download services can match the
level of quality afforded by Blu-ray discs at the moment, they are far easier
and more affordable alternatives to adopting a new video player and amassing a
collection of expensive new discs. Consumer confidence is not reassured when
people like Andrew Griffiths, Samsung U.K.'s director of consumer electronics,
is only willing to forecast a five-year lifespan for the format--a claim angrily
rebutted by Sony.
HD downloads are definitely the biggest long-term threat to Blu-ray, but it will
be some time before broadband availability and increased speeds make it worth
the while of movie studios to invest heavily in the technology and open their
libraries to the wild Web. If what you want is full high-definition video and
you want it right now, Blu-ray is still your best option.