Sunday, January 07, 2007

On the Technological Commodification of DVD Players

I bought a new DVD player today. It cost $50. I bought it at a Rite-Aid. Several years ago, I bought two DVD players for my sister and parents at a Kmart for something like $30, and it struck me then that the DVD player had become a commodity product. But today's purchase brought the point home again in spades. I could have bought a DVD player for less -- I just needed a short-term replacement for my recently broken player -- but the convenience of buying one at a drug store was worth for the extra $10 or so.

My previous DVD player was a Toshiba SD-1700. (They released their first DVD player in 1996. There's more history available, as well as information about how DVD players work.) My first DVD player came out in 2002 or so (estimate based on that page's URL) and cost $200. My new player is a Memorex MVD2023 and cost 25% of that. But why are DVD players so inexpensive and easily available now?

They're smaller and better. My new DVD player is about 25% the size of my original player, too (as is the remote, perhaps even smaller!). DVD players are no longer the size of full stereo or TV components. Even without a display, they're about the size of a portable DVD player. That means that there have been improvements in their design and components.

They're no longer high end; they're low end. Now that that technology has been widely adopted and distributed, their pricing reflects that of an entry-level, expected purchase versus that of a first-time, higher-end purchase. DVD players bought today are most likely second DVD players or replacement DVD players, which means that the adopted base is adding a second player for a second TV or replacing an older model that's no longer working.

They're seen as necessities, not luxuries. If everyone has a DVD player now and DVDs are the movie home medium of choice, they're no longer nice to haves, they're need to haves. So the purchase threshold is much lower in terms of need and desire. Buying a DVD player is no longer a device switch or a purchase you need to think about, you can just get one on a whim or immediate need.

Those points aside, there's another interesting question that remains: Why are DVD players being sold at drug stores instead of electronics shops or retail locations that specialize in movies and recorded music? Because they've moved into the mainstream, into the low end, and into the realm of commodity products, they're apparently products we don't need to seek out -- products in the vein of shampoo and underarm deoderant.

The fact that I can walk down the street, walk into a Rite-Aid, and walk out with a new DVD player that works better than one four years old, four times the cost, and four times the size indicates that the product may have run its lifecycle. Perhaps new DVD formats are intended less to improve the DVD viewing experience -- and more to necessitate the purchase of a new DVD player that will handle those DVDs. Blu-Ray, anyone?

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