Singing the Blue-Laser Blues?

HDTV-savvy storage products are entering the pipeline, notes Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern. But what do consumers really want: capacity or performance-and at what price? Readers chime in with their views.

Should storage vendors expect lines of consumers waving bucks in the air for forthcoming next-generation DVD recorders based on blue laser technology? Or will customers sit on their wallets, given the current tough economic climate and concerns over standards. From the response from readers, the consumer market may be experiencing future shock, or maybe just old-fashioned sticker shock, when sizing up the technologys prospects.

Readers responded to last weeks look-see at the nascent blue-laser market, especially to the introduction of a consumer-market recorder in Japan.

"So-called consumers are not going to shell out nearly $4,000 for a burner that wont be around in eight months," advised Steve Blandford, CTO at "Perhaps the new marketing segment youre looking for should be tagged as Prosumer. I cant take credit for this moniker, since Ive seen it used in relation to bleeding-edge technology in the digital video area. But it seems a better fit than consumer. I cant wait till the new standards shake out and the rest of us real consumers can take the plunge."

Certainly, a $4,000 is a professional-level price tag, and a consumer with pro aspirations would be a potential target for such a device. At the same time, I would ask what current prosumer application does a blue-laser drive serve?

Could it be:

  • Video editing? Sure the new blue-laser recorders are fast and can hold a lot of data—for an optical disc. When compared with current DVDs (and CD formats) the blue media is fantastic. However, that luster pales when stacked up against even a single 200GB FireWire hard disk, which holds 10 times more files, has faster throughput and costs about $500. Discs are for long-term storage and distribution.
  • Movie distribution? The blue-laser media will hold a stack of current movies or a long high-definition title; however, the idea of distribution denotes multiple devices. At least two drives would be needed to make this work—even more of an investment. Current DVD recorders work great and are compatible with the increasing installed base of consumer players.
  • Archival storage? The obvious choice, yet its a new technology with strong competition from high-capacity tape formats. And few prosumers have optical libraries to upgrade.

Of course, more is better: More capacity means more content (or better, high-definition content). And more performance is better. But only when customers can see a compelling value will they buy into the technology.

What about HDTV?

No doubt the transition to HDTV casts its shadow over all consumer digital video products, especially storage. Next-generation blue-laser optical storage and high-capacity digital video recorders could generate a replacement cycle in the consumer market.

The HDTV market is still mired in the early stages of the product lifecycle. To move out of the early-adopter phase and toward mass-market prices, HDTV vendors need to ramp up production or have the expectation of increased sales. However, with the prices still so stratospheric, customers have trouble seeing a value.

"I dont understand why companies continually release expensive devices in the hopes that they can either gain a greater market share or in the case of a truly new product gain a large customer base," reader James Clark complained. "When DVD players first came out, they were not adopted quickly until they jumped down to the $150 to $300 range.

"You can apply the same argument for HDTVs," Clark continued. "We hear industry experts cry about how the standard just isnt being adopted quick enough, and now Congress was forced to delay a digital deadline because of poor adoption of HDTVs. Do they really think that spending $10,000 on a TV is reasonable?"

Storage-industry analyst Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend, offered a wry comment on the situation: "Engineers often fail to recognize that the most important technical specification is price."

Of course, everyone keeps expecting prices to come down and they will—eventually. However, at the current pace, we can expect even more delays from federal agencies for this transition.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.