Monday, March 17, 2008

Blu-Ray Vs. IPTV: an Unequal Battle

The battlefield in new media is moving to a showdown between Internet protocol (IP) TV and Blu-ray discs now the Blu-ray camp appears set to declare victory over the rival HD DVD camp in the next-generation data storage format war. The National Assembly recently passed a law on IPTV, while domestic home appliance makers are preparing to introduce Blu-ray products, this being the camp Korean electronics manufacturers wisely bet on.

Both IPTV and Blu-ray are new formats enabling consumers to watch movies at home as and when they want. But they are hugely different in terms of customer convenience and image quality.

Stiff competition will be inevitable when IPTV goes into service this summer. IPTV is convenient to use. Once a set is installed, users will have the freedom to choose and watch films they want by clicking the remote control. By contrast, Blu-ray users must borrow or buy films every time they want to see them, and they must purchase Blu-ray equipment first. The advantage is that the Blu-ray format is incomparably superior to IPTV in image quality. Blu-ray basically stores films in full high definition, while IPTV has four or five times poorer image quality at the moment, when it is being offered on a trial basis.

With the clash on the horizon, both sides are busy strengthening their businesses. Telecom firms have signed a series of contracts to secure contents. LG Dacom, KT and Hanaro Telecom have the rights to some 1,000 movies each. The three companies began this month airing the Korean blockbuster "D-War" directed by Shim Hyung-rae.

But the Blu-ray camp is not sitting on its hands. Sony Pictures Entertainment will release 50 more Blu-ray videos by late this year, expecting the market to grow in earnest in 2008. Sony was the first to introduce a Blu-ray video in Korea in late 2006 and aims to break through the currently sluggish video market. Electronics companies like Samsung Electronics expect Blu-ray also to increase demand for full high definition TV, because customers need to purchase full HD TV sets to enjoy Blu-ray's image quality fully.

Samsung Electronics released a Blu-ray video player costing over W500,000 (US$1=W997) last year. It is to market a follow-up model soon. LG Electronics also plans to release a new Blu-ray product. Sony, meanwhile, is adding the Blu-ray play function to its game console PlayStation 3.

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