The Boston Globe looks at ‘hidden costs’ of HD

HD, according to companies like Sony, is going to feature heavily into this self-proclaimed next-generation of gaming. But is a new coat of paint on the same house really worth the true buy-in costs? Much has been said of console pricing here and elsewhere, but I think there’s still a massive amount of confusion and misinformation which the Boston Globe looks at today.

“The problem with high-def, if you’re a consumer, and the magical profit opportunity, if you’re a studio, cable firm, or electronics company, is what Jim Denney, vice president of product marketing at TiVo, calls ‘the cascading effect.’

Buy a high-def TV set ($1,000 for a Samsung 32-incher), and you’ll suddenly realize you need a new box from the cable company ($9.20 a month from Comcast). Then you notice that the shows you record on your old TiVo, even if transmitted in high-def, aren’t being recorded that way ($799 for a new TiVo Series 3 HD digital video recorder).

Home movies look better when shot with a high-def video recorder ($1,400 for a Sony HD model). And let’s not forget watching Hollywood blockbusters ($718 for a Blu-ray player from Samsung, or $549 for an HD DVD player from Toshiba) and playing videogames ($499 for Sony’s new PlayStation 3, available next month ).”

If you look even deeper, you start to see why things like Blu-Ray and HD DVD have less and less to do with gaming, and more to do with winning format wars. I pity the poor high school aged Best Buy high worker tasked with explaining to a parent in December all of the “extras” the $600 console he holds in hands requires to work properly. Oh, you want pick up and play? Fun? Well why don’t you go check out that big white, trendy looking display area over there. Somehow, over the past year, Sony has managed to turn their powerful gaming machine into more of a niche than PC gaming. They call it a computer now, so maybe that was the idea all along. But when analysts are saying other consoles, like the 360, might be suffering in sales because of a little thing like the DS, that’s a damning niche to be in.

Today — and for the indefinite future IMO — this is what will drive many people looking solely for solid, fun games away from HDTV and into the eager hands of Nintendo. Unlike with space saving, no-need-to-rewind DVDs, HD fulfills no need on the part of the consumer, and the price is not yet at the point where it’s even a hail mary impulse buy. I think Nintendo recognized this, and realized that the next shift in gaming is going to come in placing control of the game literally back into the hands of the player, as well as in the community model online that has been proven to work with games like WOW and Second Life. People laugh at the “tommy, your ice cream is in the fridge, love mom” message board that allows for posting notes, but I think you’ll be surprised at how much of a hub this tiny little box and its growing stable of Wii Channels becomes for gamers and their families and friends alike. And all without HD. Imagine that. Simplicity over strength. That’s in the Bible somewhere, so it’s got to be true.

22 Responses to The Boston Globe looks at ‘hidden costs’ of HD

  1. InvisibleMan says:

    Good post, Jack!

    I know I’ve been supporting the “HD looks better” view here in these blog, but I can vow for Jack’s opinion of the hidden costs of HD. The cool thing about the Wii is that, even though you won’t get true HD in the games, it allows you to slowly work your way up in the video and audio quality of your games because it can still output 480 progressive scan, which is at least Enhanced TV. It also carries surround sound, so you can also hook it up to a nice sound system, at your own pace. The full gaming experience is still there, even if you hook it up to a regular stereo and a small color TV.

  2. Andrew G. says:

    Gosh, Jack, I always know it’s a post by you before even checking the name to confirm that.

    This is all very true, and then there’s something else.

    Note that only about I think %10 of the U.S. owns an HDTV. Non HD-owning consumers are going to buy the PS3 (that is when they can finally find one in stores) and think “ooh I can display HD graphics on my TV because it has Blueray!” The thing they dont realize is that you dont get HD if you dont have an HDTV. So they will be disappointed to find that their brand new computer gadjet thingy doesn’t do what is says it will do. Will they go buy an HDTV? Not likely, they already guiltily overspent buying their $600 box only to find it’s not everthing and more. So they’ll probably return it and buy something….hmmm….

    …cheaper, anybody?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree, most of the world doesn’t really have HDTV, but it just seems that small 10% is really vocal about it.

    I’m glad with Nintendo’s philosohpy, heck, my TV doesn’t even have S-Video so the regular cables are just fine. I don’t need no stinkin’ HD. I can understand the need for high resolutions when playing on computer screens, but on a TV… 480 is fine.

  4. Jack says:

    anon, my opinion’s pretty well known given tehe post above, but to that “more vocal about it” point you made — people who spend thousands on a TV are going to defend that purchase to the death, even if it really isn’t what they expected, simply because of the large investment they’ve made. It’s human instinct, hence them being much more vocal than a plebian like myself and my refurbished “HD ready” TV. I’d just much rather enjoy gaming that get so intense about something as meaningless as a sharper picture. The Wii has enough horsepower for my liking.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yeah this is really sound logic here.

    Let’s plop down $719 for a Samsung Blu-Ray player and then buy a PS3!

    Oh, and you definitely need a HD Camcorder…

    Oh wait, no. None of that is true. You buy a PS3 and you get the gaming experience regardless of what kind of Tv you wish to play games on.

    Yes, buying these things is nice, but acting like you are somehow required to buy any of this after purchasing a HDTV is ridiculous. No matter what, given a HDTV and an antenna, you can get HD programming almost anywhere in the USA.

    ” I pity the poor high school aged Best Buy high worker tasked with explaining to a parent in December all of the “extras” the $600 console he holds in hands requires to work properly.”

    Umm no. Regardless of what kind of entertainment system you own, your PS3 works properly. Do you need an EDTV to make your Wii work properly? No. Do you need surround sound because the Wii supports it? No.

    The PS3 costs $500-$600 and the Wii costs $250. Yes that is a fair amount of disparity, but you ARE getting a graphical and processing improvement over the Wii for that $250 that will be evident on a SDTV. I can entirely understand if that improvement isn’t worth the $250 to a particular person, but please don’t act like the PS3 requires even more high tech add on purchases just because it supports that technology. Everything is backwards compatible and so it’s not like you are losing any capability by purchasing a PS3.

  6. Jack says:

    Anon, fair points, but it’s an opinion.

    When Sony itself is marketing the PS3 as a 1080p machine with 120 fps, you bet your ass it’s true. And then once someone buys that HDTV, all of those extras mentioned in the article become parts of that consumers life if they choose to live it the same way they did with their old TV — because nothing works as intended with HD unless its made for HD. Not taking advantage of that proves my point — it’s all a waste.

  7. Andrew G. says:

    I feel the need to repeat myself:

    The PS3 doesn’t look that great on any old TV, no matter what “anonymous” says. If you want the full experience, then you’ll have to chuck the bucks out to get it.

    To echo Jack a bit, if Sony didn’t think that you needed an HDTV to use it (the PS3) to the fullest, they would not have marketed it as such. Otherwise, they would have come up with something a little more convincing than HD graphics to use as their marketing ploy (as Nintendo has with motion sensing, and as Microsoft has with true online gaming). In saying “this thing plays beatiful HD graphics,” they are also saying, “you need an HDTV to get that effect.” Period.

    This isn’t my biased opinion. Just an observation.

  8. Rollin says:

    That was a biased opinion. (Just my observation.)

    The last anonymous is completely right.

    Andrew, if you’ve seen 360 played on non-HD tvs (remember, that’s an HD console, too) or HD programming like sports on your square-shaped tube, you’d know for a fact and not fanboy hearsay that HD content is noticably better on any set. You don’t need the extra cables and new tv to enjoy the power of PS3 or 360. The graphics they output are separate from the clarity of their pictures. Their graphics are the same all across the tv spectrum, HD sets only present it better. If i have a PS3 tomorrow, with Motorstorm, on my 27 inch Sharp tv with a curved screen and 3:4 aspect ratio, the mud that lands on my windshield will still look spectacular.

    They imply that you need an HDTV to get the whole experience because they also happen to be a TV manufacturer, and buying the cables and such to enjoy the new tv will get them even more of your money. Just like Nintendo says it’s all about the games and they cash in on nostalgia with the VC — they’re both business angles and they’re both optional features of each system. Btw, Sony’s campaign is about being truly next gen with Blu-ray, hardware, online, controller, and the works. “HD graphics and sound” were Peter Moore’s words on 360. People who pay for all the extras to really hook up their PS3 will benefit from that, but those who don’t or can’t won’t miss a thing besides shinier eye candy. The fire coming out of that dragon’s mouth will amaze you regardless.

    And Jack, you proved your own point better than you meant to: “People who spend thousands on a TV are going to defend that purchase to the death, even if it really isn’t what they expected, simply because of the large investment they’ve made.” Yeah, such as people who invest too much into Nintendo and get vocal: “I’d just much rather enjoy gaming that get so intense about something as meaningless as a sharper picture. The Wii has enough horsepower for my liking.

    nothing works as intended with HD unless its made for HD. Not taking advantage of that proves my point — it’s all a waste.” So does that mean people who don’t own tvs with progressive scan or widescreen modes shouldn’t buy Wii? Because that’s the same scenario, all Wii games come standard with 16:9 widescreen and 480p.

    I know that Jack would rather make a suicide pact with me than agree with my PS3 feelings, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

  9. mark says:

    There was a study done a while back which found almost half of people with HD capable TVs didn’t even use the HD capabilities of their TV.

    HDTV is so overrated especially when it comes to games. Quake 4 at 640 x 400 resolution looks much better than Quake 3 at 1024 x 768. It’s not the amount of pixels that matters it is what you do with them.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Even though I agree with you that this generation does not necessitate an HD bump, some of these arguements are rediculous.

    1. Even though these aren’t your words, the quote from the Boston Globe assumes way too much. It sounds like a fanboy calculating every accessory for a console, or like when Sony said the HD-DVD drive was required for the 360. First of all, I bought a $700 Samsung 30 inch HD set, and a $20 antenna. I now have HD Over-the-Air. I do not require a Cable Box, a Camcorder, or a PS3 to enjoy HD.

    2. “Today — and for the indefinite future IMO — this is what will drive many people looking solely for solid, fun games away from HDTV” – HD fans and Nintendo fans are not mutally exlcusive. Just because the Wii won’t utilize HD, doesnt mean an HD owner can’t enjoy it. I love both. Also, you imply that people who want to have fun don’t want HD. It seems you are needlessly dividing HD owners and Nintendo fans, when there is overlap there.

    3. “HD fulfills no need on the part of the consumer” – No crap, this is a videogames website, nothing you report on “fulfills a need”. But if I may, I think what you are trying to say is that HD does not add to games. It does, IF, graphics are an important feature of your console. i.e. If you are planning on getting a PS3 or Xbox360, you should get an HD set.

    I think Nintendo made the right decision, there aren’t enough HD adopters to necessitate pushing their system specs for HD……yet. HD is not a fad. Prices will come down, and it will become standard. I think this article’s misinformation buries the point you were trying to make, in that HD is not a prerequisite of fun. If that is what you were trying to say, I’m with yah.

    -TravistyOJ (wouldn’t let me comment with my Google account)

  11. Jack says:

    Mark, I’d suggest this blog post as a read too:

    http://ozymandias.com/archive/2006/10/21/Clarifying-Thoughts-on-High-Definition-Game-Rendering.aspx

    It’s a developer’s look at 1080p. Not necessarily pro or against anything, but it shows how muddy this issue of “HD gaming” is right now.

    -jack

  12. Andrew G. says:

    Rollin says (quoting Jack):

    “‘nothing works as intended with HD unless its made for HD. Not taking advantage of that proves my point — it’s all a waste.” So does that mean people who don’t own tvs with progressive scan or widescreen modes shouldn’t buy Wii? Because that’s the same scenario, all Wii games come standard with 16:9 widescreen and 480p.”

    But your’e missing the point I was trying to make, Rollin. The point is, if Sony is marketing their new PS3 console as an HD system, then they automatically assume that you either own an HDTV or are going to buy one. However, Nintendo’s main marketing point is not that it can run in progressive scan, it’s the motion-sensing controller that comes in the box with the system.

    I never said that the graphical prowess would be different on a normal TV. There’s no denying the graphics are going to be nice. However, in order to get the fullest intended (strong emphasis on “intended”) experience, you need an HDTV. Do you get what I’m trying to say? If Sony thought it was okay for you to play the PS3 on a regular TV, they wouldn’t have put so much emphasis on the Blueray capabilities inside of it (which is ultimately what makes it as expensive as it is).

    And to defend myself, no, that previous post of mine was not a biased opinion, and neither is this one. I’ll have you know that I’m not a fan (at all) of Microsoft gaming products, either. However, I have no reason to insult the Xbox 360 because it isn’t primarily pushing the prospect of HD (even though it’s compatible), it’s marketing itself as the best online play experience one can get (which may or may not be true, I wouldn’t know from personal experience, though the fans seem to be happy with it). I’d have probably had this same argument with someone about a year ago if the Xbox 360 was advertised to do something that required a thousand dollar TV. But it’s not.

    And please dont try and defend with “you have to have the internet in order to play online, so Microsoft is essentially doing the same thing as Sony.” The difference between the internet and an HDTV is that the majority of consumers have access to the internet (many of them, in fact, have a broadband connection of some sort). Not everyone (not a lot of people, actually) have an HDTV. If you buy the already expensive PS3 (without games or extra controllers) and then buy the HDTV, then you have spent a lot of money. The internet is a monthly bill that most consumers are already paying with or without the Xbox 360 or Wii or PS3.

  13. Jack says:

    Travisty, your comment was anything but! Perhaps you made some of my murkier points a little more clear. Thanks for that!

  14. Andrew G. says:

    Rollin says (quoting Jack):

    “‘nothing works as intended with HD unless its made for HD. Not taking advantage of that proves my point — it’s all a waste.” So does that mean people who don’t own tvs with progressive scan or widescreen modes shouldn’t buy Wii? Because that’s the same scenario, all Wii games come standard with 16:9 widescreen and 480p.”

    But your’e missing the point I was trying to make, Rollin. The point is, if Sony is marketing their new PS3 console as an HD system, then they automatically assume that you either own an HDTV or are going to buy one. However, Nintendo’s main marketing point is not that it can run in progressive scan, it’s the motion-sensing controller that comes in the box with the system.

    I never said that the graphical prowess would be different on a normal TV. There’s no denying the graphics are going to be nice. However, in order to get the fullest intended (strong emphasis on “intended”) experience, you need an HDTV. Do you get what I’m trying to say? If Sony thought it was okay for you to play the PS3 on a regular TV, they wouldn’t have put so much emphasis on the Blueray capabilities inside of it (which is ultimately what makes it as expensive as it is).

    And to defend myself, no, that previous post of mine was not a biased opinion, and neither is this one. I’ll have you know that I’m not a fan (at all) of Microsoft gaming products, either. However, I have no reason to insult the Xbox 360 because it isn’t primarily pushing the prospect of HD (even though it’s compatible), it’s marketing itself as the best online play experience one can get (which may or may not be true, I wouldn’t know from personal experience, though the fans seem to be happy with it). I’d have probably had this same argument with someone about a year ago if the Xbox 360 was advertised to do something that required a thousand dollar TV. But it’s not.

    And please dont try and defend with “you have to have the internet in order to play online, so Microsoft is essentially doing the same thing as Sony.” The difference between the internet and an HDTV is that the majority of consumers have access to the internet (many of them, in fact, have a broadband connection of some sort). Not everyone (not a lot of people, actually) have an HDTV. If you buy the already expensive PS3 (without games or extra controllers) and then buy the HDTV, then you have spent a lot of money. The internet is a monthly bill that most consumers are already paying with or without the Xbox 360 or Wii or PS3.

  15. Rezlow says:

    Suck it up, boys. High-def is the new standard. Just like black and white tv to color, 4:3 to 16:9 HD will be the format the media arrives in. Now HD-DVD/Blu-ray may not plow through the industry, but more and more, people want that aspect ratio.

    You can’t stop progress.

    I’m running a 360 on an SDTV, 4:3 screen. It is amazing, and the games are fun (more than I can say for the PS2, BLAH, that purchase will haunt me…). I’ve played in on an HDTV… whole new experience. There _is_ a difference… a good one. You may not like it (I know I don’t, cause I want one now), but that’s the reality. Even the Wii will be better on an HDTV. Wide Screen alone can open your game world in a way you wouldn’t even imagine.

    Zelda in 480p will be sweeeeet…

  16. Andrew G. says:

    Rezlow: I agree that one cannot stop progress. I would never want to. But the point is (and I’m not arguing, just making myself clear) that if you want to sell to a mass market, you dont do it on technology that has not yet caught on and costs quite a lot this day in age. Nintendo knows that it will eventually be the norm because they have already stated that the Wii’s successor (presuming there will be such a console) will support HD. At that point, HD should be cheaper.

    PS: Sorry for the double post earlier. The internet was acting funny.

  17. Rollin says:

    Andrew, the point you’re missing is that Sony made an incredibly future-proof console. The Blu-ray drive is so people who want to move up to high-def movies can choose PS3 to do it and those gamers who are planning to get HDTVs will get PS3s for that future purchase to enjoy games in that HD format also. PS3 will be here 6 years from now still going strong, and there will be a lot of HD movies and low-priced HDTVs available to owners willing to get the most out of PS3.

    Sony’s biggest tagline is not HD, which is something you don’t quite get. Just the same, Microsoft doesn’t market 360 as the definitive online experience. We know that because we’re aware of these things and, like i sed above, fanboy hearsay. Their marketing hasn’t told you that– the sites you visit and other gamers have told you that. Those things are too specific to a certain demographic to make into an ad campaign. No matter how many people have broadband, not everyone plays online games.

    That’s why Sony touts all the media formats it supports, the free online, the HD this and that, microcontent, storage capacity and movie capabilities of Blu-ray, wireless controllers with motions, and etc. They want to capture all the niches at once while they’re budding so they can really capitalize on them later when HD is more pervasive in the media and in homes. They don’t assume anything, they just want you to know that you can use it in conjuction with a future HDTV purchase you’re probably gonna make anyway if you’re spending 600 bucks on tech. Compatibility is what Sony is marketing.

    To answer your Microsoft thing: “please dont try and defend with ‘you have to have the internet in order to play online, so Microsoft is essentially doing the same thing as Sony.'” It’s not the same. An HDTV will be a one-time purchase, whereas you have to pay annualy for an Xbox Live account in addition to your internet bill. And yes, Microsoft does tout “HD graphics and sound”, so drop the double-standard and recheck those press releases.

    As for your double post, delete the second one.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Even though your article is very well written I have to disagree. Your point of view might be true for High School students but isn’t necessarily true for the rest of video gamers. There have been studies that show the majority of “gamers” are between the age of 18-29. And being 22 years old myself I find this to be very true.

    I really believe making 360 and PS3 HD compatible was by far the smartest move. I’ve honestly witnessed a trend between my friends and I. We’ve all purchase large HDTVs. Why? because were fresh out of college with tons of spending money and no obligations. Not to mention the two things we love most look great on HDTV (Sports and Video Games).

    This is the demographic that Microsoft and Sony are looking for. This demographic has no remorse for spending there whole paycheck on tech gadgets they don’t need. I can tell you 360 and PS3 are driving the HDTV market. Which for Sony is a win-win considering they control a major share in the HD market.

    Its easy for the old men over 40 to say they would never buy and HDTV or a gaming console. Which proves why the suits in the board room never get anything right. They never understand the demographic that uses the product.

  19. Jack says:

    No offense anon, but “tons of spending money” and “no obligations” are not what I associate with “fresh out of college”; it’s what I associate with being IN college. Do you have any loans? Most people do, in the tens of thousands of dollars. While I can say I am a bit envious of your situation, being 3 years out of college myself and with a low paying job as a journalist (and loans), I can with much confidence say your friends’ and your own situation are NOT the norm.

    If you take the HD adopters, which is maybe 10% (roughly 40 million people in the next few years), and then further focus it by saying “HD owners who are also a gamer between 18-29,” you have an even smaller percentage of people. Add in the fact that this same demographic must also have the cash to get a “big HDTV” and that % gets even smaller still. This is your market driving force?

    And the PS3 and 360 are driving the market for HD? I appreciate your opinion, but hardly. First, the PS3 isn’t even out yet, and if we’re just talking the U.S., then 400k units at launch does not a market driving force make. No, it is NBC and ESPN and all the other HD channels on cable TV that are doing that, with a helping hand from those campy Best Buy commercials — not some niche market like video games. And that’s where Nintendo comes in. They seek to expand the market, not with HD or horespower, but with fun factor and gameplay. Their approach makes the idea of HD and Blu-Ray irrelevant to the video game conversation. Only then, after the Wii takes off, and maybe in 4-5 years time, can we say with any degree of certainty that HD-enabled consoles can come in and “drive the market.” They have to take off first however, and sluggish 360 sales of late and PS3’s sinking ship before launch (Japan reduced to 80k units at launch) don’t bode well for that outcome.

    And let’s not bring ‘the suits’ into this — Sony’s hardly in a position to say its executives have done anything right these days, let slone drive the market towards HD with their PS3 and proprietary Blu-Ray format.

  20. Rollin says:

    If the HD argument is so irrelevant to gaming, why do you feel the need to bash it?

    Really, the main people who are bitching about HD are Wii fans who want to make it out to be the most insignificant thing to ever be a part of gaming, when it isn’t. Sony and Microsoft have placed their bets on HD because they know, just like every other big company, that HD will catch on. For gamers, that makes their systems a driving force for HD adoption. No matter how many launch units will be available, Jack, there are countless fans of that system that will wait for it and plan their other electronic purchases around it, as well as HDTV owners who see the HD compatibility and decide to get it based on that. Not the major driving force, but it will drive a significant portion of consumers to go HD.

    Gamers who plan on buying HDTVs in the near future are probably gonna plop down cash for an HD console first. These so-called hidden costs aren’t a big deal to those who have the bank accounts to support such purchases. To those who whine and try to vilify HD (including those who do it just because Wii doesn’t support HD), it is. Well, guess what. Those aren’t the people being targeted, so their opinions and their cries aren’t important to anyone. If it’s so irrelevant to you and your preferences, then stop bitching. Don’t try to skew it to make it seem as if you have to buy all this just to turn your PS3 on.

    And seriously, drop the whole “Nintendo’s pushing F-U-N” bull — Nintendo is as guilty of making people buy extra things after the initial purchase as any other company, gaming or not. If you buy into that marketing trash talk, you need to get your head straight. Every console manufacturer pushes fun, along with flashy features. Nintendo goes low-key with Wii’s flash factor and all of a sudden they’re the kings of fun?

  21. Jack says:

    Nintendo’s financials say they’re kings of fun, so the answer to your last question there is “yes”; it’s also true they push fun, flashy features just like everyone else. It’s just that, unlike Sony, Nintendo’s approach is working. HD’s time will come, just not now, and not because of the PS3.

  22. Rollin says:

    The answer is no. Nintendo’s profits show they’re good businesspeople. Someone make an Apple/iPod analogy, i don’t feel like it.

    Nintendo’s approach is less gambly than Sony’s – they’ve got less riding on it, that’s all. And like you said above, wait till the systems come out before you shoot down one or the other’s approach. Sony has a lot of investors from different areas that are depending on PS3, so their financials are being affected by different things- they’re a different company altogether. Once Sony starts shipping as much PS3s as Nintendo does Wii, then you can look at things fairly and see who’s getting it right. Hint: it’ll be both.

    HD’s time will come; Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo realize that. But whether people buy into it now or later, it’s coming regardless. There are people who’ll go for it now, and those who wait. Sony and Microsoft have machines that if said people wish to jump into HD now, they can do so. What’s the problem with that? Basically you’re trying to convince already convinced people that HD is somehow wrong if they get involved with it now, which is untrue.

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