Subject: Analysis of the DVD format
Date: 19 Feb 1996 17:59:00 -0500 An analysis of the TOSHIBA
Digital Video Disc Format
And its success and impact on the consumer market.
Patrick T. Chamberlain
As the RCA brochure for the DVD system states, DVD will be "Revolutionary, entertainment excitement!" This is what the industry believes, and it is what the industry wants the consumer to believe. Belief and reality are two different things however. While many hope and pray that the DVD system will be an unqualified success, others see DVD as being a colossal failure and a system that will wreck companies and the consumer video market and take its place in history as the biggest failure of a product in the history of consumer electronics. It may even take several electronic companies down with it.
Why this belief? To answer that, we must take a brief look back at the history of consumer electronics and the people who buy them-- the average American.
RCA spent over $700 million dollars on its SelectaVision CED VideoDisc system, and it ultimately failed. CED had been predicted to be a $9 billion dollar business by 1990, but the system was discontinued in 1984, only 3 years after its introduction. From the beginning of its development in 1968, RCA spent millions on consumer polls to research how the consumer would react to a home videodisc system. Over 1 million people participated in the polls, some even getting to use the prototype VideoDisc products in their homes for limited trial periods. When all the data had been analyzed, it pointed to an unprecedented success on RCA's part and indicated that consumers would rush quickly to the VideoDisc. Even in a last minute market study, 2 months before the launch of CED in March of 1981, the research was encouraging. RCA was going to have a huge success on its hands. But it didn't turn out that way. Customers stayed away in droves. RCA had to quickly slash prices and introduce new models to entice people into stores. Of those that actually bought players and discs, 2/3 of them returned them within 30 days to exchange for a VCR. RCA sold less than 50,000 players the first year on the market and it worked out that RCA spent $2,000.00 in advertising per player sold. The reasons for the failure of the system, while claimed to be complex by some, are actually very simple. The VideoDisc system didn't record, you were forced to purchase your programming instead of renting and program selection was too small. Additionally, although this is claimed to be an insignificant factor, CED had an inferior picture to any then currently available home video system and the discs skipped.
These, I think, are some of the very same reasons that DVD is going to fail in the market.
Since the first Sony Betamax became available in 1976, consumers have cherished the ability to record programs and shows off of television. This even became a war between VHS and Beta over recording times, with consumers expressing preference for VHS because of its longer recording times. An interesting fact about all of this, is that 70% of VCR owners NEVER do any recording whatsoever. They may buy a blank tape or two when they first purchase their new VCR, but thats it. After that, their main use of the VCR is to playback prerecorded programming that they have rented for the evening. Many, many VCR's have never even had a blank tape in them or had their recording function activated. But although most people don't do any recording, they DEMAND that capability in ANY medium they use for playback of home videos. I think it is a feeling of "what good is it if it doesn't record". They know that with their VHS they always have that option to record open to them should they choose to do so. The fact that they don't has no bearing on anything.
Consumers will look at DVD and see that it doesn't record. That will instantly arouse suspicions in their mind that if the movies they want to watch are not available on the DVD discs, then the machine will be useless to them and a waste of money. Just because DVD will have a (supposedly) better picture quality than VHS will play no part in their decision. it doesn't record, therefore, it is crippled and worth less than VHS, which DOES record anytime they want. (VHS playback-only units failed in the market too, and rightly so, just proving my points)
Programming is another area as mentioned above. All the companies involved with DVD are promising a catalog of 250 titles at the launch with maybe 50 to 100 actually available in the stores in the beginning. The coding that DVD uses (MPEG-2) requires 10 minutes of processing to encode 1 minute of program. This means that unless the powers that be have been secretly encoding discs for the last 3 years in preparation for the launch, there is no way they have the time to ready 250 titles by June. (The earliest stated launch date for DVD) Their only choice is to compromise the quality of the encoding by using quicker algorithms that save time while sacrificing picture quality. And even if they do manage to finish 250 movies in time for the launch, what will those movies be? TOP GUN? ROCKY? They will be the same tired movies that everyone already owns and will be loathe to buy again. Also, DVD movies are supposed to have features such as multiple aspect ratios, and different languages and ratings and subtitles. There is really no true hope that any of these features will come to pass on general releases. (which is precisely the titles they will be needed most on if the format is to succeed) At the quoted prices for a 2 hour movie (15 to 20 dollars) no company is going to spend the many thousands of dollars needed to properly prepare all the differing versions of a film that are to be included on a particular DVD disc. It just wouldn't make economic sense for a company to do that. Because the titles available will be ones that people already own, they will naturally sell less than a new release that is still hot from the theaters. This will result in even a bigger cost for companies because the less they sell, the more each feature costs to implement on each title. Also, there is the question of time. Just how much time is it going to take to encode all these additional features onto each disc? if the companies are already pressed for time to get the disc released, then they will most certainly not do any special features.
Another question is, how many consumers actually WANT and USE all the special features that DVD *might* offer? CD players offer all kinds of special programming and playback options, yet most people never touch these features. A cheap VCR is seen as too intimidating to most Americans. They just want to watch the movie, not select different versions, languages and such. The LD market has proven that these extra features are desired, but only by a small segment of the population. The special edition LDs don't even sell to most LD owner/collectors. They are a small segment of an already small market. Are the studios going to spend money on DVD to make discs that only a select few will buy and care to view? NO! The reason they bother with the LD market is that they can charge more for the special disc releases and collectors will pay. But the DVD camp has sold the format as ultimately cheap and there is NO WAY people are going to buy discs for a new format that cost $100.00 per pop. And the companies KNOW they aren't going to sell, so they WONT produce them!
And just where are these differing versions (read:ratings) of films going to come from? A director shoots a film, and in the vast majority of cases, the movie is finished at the rating the director aimed for. Additional scenes are not shot and edited to make differing rating versions of a film. Are the studios going to call back entire casts and crews to revise a film so they can produce a DVD version with differing ratings? If they don't, will the studio elect to do it themselves and edit without the directors approval? I don't think so... This argument alone is enough to shoot the whole "features" aspect of DVD right out the window. The entire goal of Hollywood is and always has been to produce at the lowest cost possible and sell at the highest. Offer as little as possible turn a buck.
Availablitly of titles for rental is another area of concern. How many stores are going to stock DVD and take up selling space that could be better stocked with something else? Why should they even get into it in the first place? They will have a few titles, that, because of low ownership of players, will sit on the shelves doing no rentals. I seriously doubt that most stores will offer DVD for rent for longer than 2 months after the launch.
And now we get into THE most controversial aspect of the entire DVD debate. PICTURE QUALITY, or the lack there of. When DVD was first announced, it was claimed to offer D1 Master Tape quality. A short while later, the companies said it was much better than VHS but worse than LD. Now they have swung the other way again and are claiming D1 quality again. Quite simply, this will be impossible on commercially prepared, feature length films.
The specs for DVD state that it has an average transfer rate of 4.69MBPS,
DVD is just barely capable of LD quality resolution. It has a maximum transfer rate of 10 MBPS, but this can only be sustained for a few moments here and there for very difficult to encode scenes or pictures. The claimed maximum running time at the average data rate is 133 minutes. What about a film that is so complex visually and with so much motion that it requires a very high sustained data rate? How will the companies choose, to reduce the playing time of the disc or cut the data rate and sacrifice picture quality?? Its not a hard question to answer if you have been paying attention thus far.
The DVD demos given to date have been carefully prepared, short demos. No demo has been given of a full length DVD disc. So far, they have all been under 15 minutes. At that timing, the DVD disc can easily encode at the maximum data rate and sustain it for the time required for maximum quality. And even in these *prepared* demos, artifacts in the picture have been easily seen by non-critical viewers! If artifacts are visible at the highest data rates, what will the picture look like at the very low rates needed for a feature length film? One can only guess at the ugliness of it all. Also, in every demo comparing DVD to LD, the LDs used have NOT been commericaly available LD's, but rather, ones made by the companies especially for the demo! Is this not highly suspect??? All witnesses who have seen these staged demos have said that NO LD on the market looks as bad as the LD's the DVD demos used. It is obvious that the companies don't want us to see a real, quality LD compared to a special, tweaked DVD. (which, by the way, is the VERY BEST they can do!) When DVD was compared to VHS, the VHS tape used was a worn rental copy from a local video store! Of course DVD will be expected to look better under these circumstances. Yet in every case, viewers preferred the VHS because it didn't have motion artifacts and strange pixelization artifacts that the DVD had.
Where as the artifacts in analog sources such as VHS and LaserDisc, are static in nature and can be quickly overlooked and "seen thru" when watching a program, DVD artifacts are dynamic and changeable from moment to moment and may even vary each time the disc is played. They are very noticeable and a viewer will not become accustomed to them or learn to "see thru" them. The artifacts will be a constant distraction in the DVD picture. There is another strange artifact in an MPEG-2 picture called "static motion" where a solid background seems to be alive with movement. It takes on a *swimmy* quality and is most unpleasant to view. It is caused the by the various pixels coming and going as the coder varies the bit rate on a moment by moment basis.
So far, the claims of DVD being cheap to produce have been based on the fact that DVD manufacture is pretty much the same as conventional CD replication. But, DVD's are NOT CD's. The data and pit structure of a DVD disc is almost 1/2 the size of that on a CD and 1/2 that of a LaserDisc. The pits on a LD and CD are already among the smallest of all manufactured formations, and it is correct to ask whether or not the companies can make discs to the exacting standards required by DVD in the large quantities and speeds required by the mass market. DVD has a very powerful and sophisticated error correction system built in, but because we are dealing with picture and sound and tracks that are only 1/2 conventional size, errors in disc manufacture will have to be an order of magnitude less than anything that has been achieved to date in CD and LD replication. Errors in the video picture will be very distracting and cause breakup and even more sever pixelation that that caused by the data reduction. Also, because of the fact that everything is half size and the data is already reduced by an incredible amount, errors that would be easily correctable on a CD will be even larger to a DVD and might not be correctable at all, thus requiring interploitation, which WILL be visible in the picture. Where as Digital Error Correction is perfect and invisible, interploitation IS NOT perfect, and very visible. It is just a best guess type of strategy and it used when the defect is so large that the player cant correct it. The one positive aspect of DVD replication is that since a DVD is actually 2 very thin discs bonded together, there will be less material used per layer and that will result in less stress on the plastic and less deformation of the substrate during curing. So, in that respect, DVD is much more robust than a conventional CD.
What will DVD do to the consumer electronics business and the home video business over all? Well, if you were to ask the companies involved, they would tell you, in glowing terms, how DVD will make millions of dollars, cause people to junk their entire systems and buy new, higher quality home theaters so that they can best take advantage of DVD's super duper high quality picture and sound. I think it is going to destroy the market. Why? Companies are looking to DVD as the Great Hope. They are putting all their resources into it, putting all their eggs into one basket, so to speak. When it ultimately fails, they will lose hundreds of millions of dollars. Many companies, such as Sony, who have a recent history of product failures and are already struggling in a tough market, may be taken down from it and go out of business entirely or be forced to downsize and restrict their company to only a few select areas. Smaller companies, such as local mom-and-pop type of video stores, who, believing the DVD hype, jump on the DVD bandwagon, may well face bankruptcy and foreclosure when the market they have invested everything in fails to materialize. Movie studios, who will be releasing their product on DVD, may well cut back on VHS releases or delay release of a film on VHS hoping that the DVD availability and VHS non-availability will push consumers into buying DVD discs and players will also lose when the DVD;s don't sell. Consumers will be angry for having a new and unwanted format forced upon them and will revolt by refusing to buy existing VHS tapes either. Because of the companies releasing DVD;s first, there wont be any new VHS titles to buy, so even for the customer who still wants VHS, it wont be there. The whole market could collapse because of this.
DVD is just a bad idea. It is being forced upon a uncaring and unwanted public and is an inferior product that simply isn't needed or desired. DVD exists only for one reason. Greed. Motion picture studios are always looking for a way to sell the same stuff over and over again and they think DVD is the answer. Electronics giants are always looking for the hot new gadget that will make consumers junk their existing products and they feel that DVD is the answer. Its not. Actually, it is an answer to a non existent question. A question that has never been and never will be asked.
© 1996 Ty Chamberlain
DiscoVision - THE WORLD ON A SILVER PLATTER!!StereoBoy@aol.com