The other X factor (no pun intended) that we always need to consider when charting the early adoption of new media delivery formats is porn. However, it appears that the adult business which has been driving video for the last several decades may be a little reluctant to jump into the market this time, and the video game market might jump ahead.
A little over a year ago, I did a little research into the adult video industry for an article I was co-writing, and found that some of the adult movie producers do feel there is a downside to high definition. “There are some things,” they say, “you don’t want to see in high def.” Also, with higher capacity comes the cost to fill that capacity. Whether they shoot in high def, or add multiple camera angles, it’s going to cost more to produce, my source said. On the other hand, next-generation game unit sales were released by NPD Group last week, and these figures demonstrate clear growth in the gaming area. In June 2007 alone, 98,500 PlayStation 3 units were sold, and 198,500 thousand Xbox 360 units were sold, although the numbers don't indicate how many of those Xbox units were sold with the HD DVD add-on (all PS3 units include Blu-ray). Even do, that’s a lot of gamers being exposed to high definition.
Activision head of production Laird Malamed says that he feels HD is important for the future of video games developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. “As we see more and more widescreen displays and high end audio systems move into people's homes, they will want all of their media that they play on those systems to be utilizing the power they purchased. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, for example, was designed, built and tested from the very beginning with this in mind, and I think that is a reason why people who have seen it are telling me it is a must have game this year.”
He also says that for many Activision games, the higher resolution brings the vision and quality of the game to the player so much better that the format should sell itself. He gave the example of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, which has skaters cruising through a puddle and leaving trails behind them. The high definition, he said, just adds to the reality of the game. “The game is all about designing your career and skating style, so players expect a great looking environment with tons of detail to match the design level of detail," he says. "HD video and audio provide that in all of our games.”
David Riley of NPD agrees that high definition is wonderful technology but he doesn’t think it’s the selling point just yet. “Looking into the gaming industry in 2002, one of the value-adds with the PlayStation 2 was that it was a DVD," he says. "At the time, DVD players were still expensive, so this proved to be a great product for Sony because it acted as both a gaming console and a DVD player.” But even though DVD wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now in 2002, it was well-established, and not facing competition from rival formats. And while the PlayStation 3 plays Blu-ray discs, not all movie studios support Blu-ray--so, he asks, will consumers be ready to make the Blu-ray/HD DVD decision based on a game?
Riley also says that as a gamer himself, he won’t buy a game just because it is high definition. “It doesn’t compel me to pick up a title I might be sitting on the fence about.” However, he does confirm my statement on sports games to some degree. “If you are a sports fan, and watch a lot of football on television, it looks better on HD. I would have to say that sports video games also look great in HD. Has that pushed the consumer over the edge and compelled gamers to buying a title? I don’t think so. A lot more has to go into the game than just looking pretty. There are plenty of games out there that are not in HD that in my opinion look just as good.”
Consumers need to educate themselves and learn about the benefits of HD DVD and Blu-ray, Riley continues. “Hardcore gamers tend to be the early adopters and they pick up on these things and they love it. You don’t have to be a technophile or a videophile to appreciate it. But," he maintains, gamers are the only "ones paying attention right now. The average consumer tends to wait and see what’s going to happen before they invest the money."
As technology changes so rapidly, the time may have come that consumers, other than early adopters, don’t have the dispoable income to try every new format. Riley says, “Are you going to invest $500 or $600 on an iPhone, then another $400 or $500 dollars on a video game console or maybe multiple consoles, and then buy a $500 HD DVD player?” Technology needs to be sorted out before it is adopted.
Obviously, for publishers there is no disadvantage to developing a game in high def; it helps to raise the bar a little bit, even if HD alone won't make a game a must-buy for most gamers. For me, it goes further back than Blu-ray and HD DVD. The video game publishers are the only ones who have played surround sound for what it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot, so I stand strong when I say that the game developers and game players are the ones that will drive high definition as well, introducing a compelling format to new users who will gravitate toward HD movies as the mandate approaches and the entire TV world moves toward DTV and HDTV.
Debbie Galante Block is a freelance writer based in Mahopac, NY.