06 January 2007

what aboutis it just me

A short post about technological innovation and what it takes to keep with technology, what technology costs and just how much of it do we need. Is it just a matter of hitting the market correctly, or is there some limit to how much money people will throw at technology?

Chateau VVB has been thinking about technology a bit lately. We're probably the only household in the leafy western suburbs not to have a big screen TV. We've been talking about it for about a year, during which time of course the prices have fallen quite a bit. LCD screens seem to have been displacing plasma, at least in smaller big screens, if you follow me.

The reception on most channels has been variable, but in particular Channel 10 has been close to unwatchable (that's not a comment on program content, although ti probably should be. Anyway last weekend we splurged on a basic set top box - standard definition and no hard disc -and the results were just bloody amazing. The pictures are sharp and stable, there's no ghosting and the picture quality is the same for ABC, 7, 9, 10 and SBS. Of course this cuts out Briz31 which I watch a bit, so it gets relegated to a small TV in the kitchen.

So this was all quite revelatory and got us wondering about why anyone would want high definition TV. No doubt there is another leap of quality involved, but how much? And, what about the quality at the other end of the system, namely the eyes? For ageing baby boomers such as Mrs VVB and me, who are both reliant on glasses (and I've only got sight in one eye anyway), what would be the real improvement from HDTV? I also recall reading somewhere recently about the effect of HDTV on people such as newsreaders: apparently even small skin blemishes are reproduced in great detail, requiring new ways of applying makeup. Obviously a killer issue for female newsreaders, an occupation very reliant on looking hawt.

I'd also been reading about the emerging HD DVD war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, which threatened to be a rerun of the VHS/Betamax debacle of the early 1980s. So
this article about a possible techno fix was intriguing. The article does point out though that the inventors, LG, would need to pay double licensing fees which may make its player uneconomic.

The proponents of the newer technologies like Apple, with its iPod, and YouTube were forecasting that hard copy technologies such as DVD were doomed anyway. It seems to me that there are quite a few factors at work which make forescasting the eventual outcome a bit problematic:

  • HD DVD in either format is still expensive, as new technologies usually are, and so take is limited to early adopters. You'd need to have prices fall before mainstream purchasers committed to the medium.
  • Is the difference between standard and high definition all that worthwhile? Will consumers value the difference enough to take it up?
  • What about the cost of content on YouTube, for example? Once a lot of the content is not free - as it has been but I believe there are copyright cases now in play - will there still be exponential growth?
  • And finally, just to get a bit silly, suppose we have a swing back to a more community-oriented way of life rather than today's apparent triumph of individualism? Will it still be OK to walk around in an iPod cocoon, oblivious of one's surroundings, and to retreat to the home theatre?
That last point probably tells you more about Chateau VVB and its discomfort with the costs associated with these technologies (disclaimer - this does not apply to offspring number 2!). But even if VVB stays aloof from these new-fangled thingamajigs, it'll be fascinating to watch it play out. In standard definition, of course.

Yes, I have heard of
Ned Ludd. So has this bloke, it would seem.

We need to take account of the product cycle and economies generated through better distribution, provided those channels get their pricing right. My understanding is that popular culture distribution is tightly controlled by a small number of global players: hardly conductive to open competition with widespread consumer choice.

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