Interview: Ken Lowe of Sigma Designs

January 30, 2007

Sigma DesignsYesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to speak with Sigma Designs Ken Lowe (Sigma’s media processors can be found in Blu-ray players from Sony, Pioneer, and Panasonic) about his thoughts on Blu-ray and HD DVD. It was an impromptu interview but Ken had some interesting things to say on the subject so without further ado, here we go.

HTB: Ken tell us a little about your position at Sigma Designs and the company’s product offerings, what type of HD devices are Sigma’s chipsets found in?

Ken Lowe: I run strategic marketing, which means I run business development and partner relations, investor relations, and manage a great deal of corporate development for the company, so I keep my hands in several pots which allows me to feed information back and forth.

Sigma in the last five years has become a leading vendor in media processors, having entered the market at a point when the industry had already worked out who has the DVD players, who has the set-top boxes etc. As we made the transition to high definition, new standards were introduced for video, security and system integration that then created a complete paradigm shift with Sigma ending up on top and others knocking at the door to get in.

The primary markets that we participate in include Blu-ray and HD DVD devices, at this point it’s primarily Blu-ray; secondly the market for IPTV set-top boxes; thirdly the market for digital media adaptors and media extender devices in general; and fourth the market for high definition televisions

HTB: We’re coming up on the first year anniversary for both formats, how do you think they’ve done so far?

Ken Lowe: In general I think that the report card is that neither standard has done that well so far. For something that we hope to become the heir apparent to DVD, they’ve both been struggling to gain traction in a consumer base that has yet to develop confidence in either of the formats as a successor to DVD, and therefore its only the enthusiast that have been willing to jump in and take part.

HTB: What do you think the likelihood that dual-format players could become the norm rather than the exception as in LG’s case?

Ken Lowe: It’s easier to implement dual-format hardware from a stand-alone perspective than recorders. Almost that entire market [recorders] has already gone Blu-ray because, with the exception of Toshiba, all of the Japanese electronic manufacturers are Blu-ray. It appears over there they’ve rallied around that for whatever reason, I don’t know if it’s the power of Sony or whatever else. So there’s this issue of, well if we have the player end solved with dual-format format players, its not so easy to do a recorder that way; recorders are much more involved in terms of what you have to accomplish.

I can’t pretend to know all the nuances we’re going to experience but it would seem to me that since either one of these standards have ten times the complexities of the original DVD, in terms of all the interactive features and the different modes and everything, it just seems to me that doubling everything is going to make it more complex.

HTB: Do you have a personal preference in formats, would you recommend one over the other?

The fair answer is that because they both use the same video standards and they’re both largely very interactive and both produce beautiful video, they both afford you a nice user interface, they both have sufficient capacity to deliver a high definition movie, there’s a little bit more capacity with Blu-ray but I think that’s relatively minor at the outset. So I think the honest truth is that as a new standard to produce beautiful high definition video/movies, they both do just fine.

I don’t think any of us can tell the difference in front of a screen, there literally is no real difference. The differences really come down to the quality of the encoding, the attention to detail they take during the encoding process, that’s what really differentiates the quality.

HTB: We’re in agreement there, once I saw some of the more recent Blu-ray releases and that they could indeed compete with some of the better HD DVD titles, it became of much less concern to me. I don’t think image quality is enough to decide this barring any other unforeseen software snafus on the Blu-ray side, its going to come down to something else.

Ken Lowe: Yeah when we were looking at this before the Christmas selling season and weighing things out, it seemed to me that there were three things that are required before this thing takes off. One of which is we need a considerable more amount of content to make it more compelling, we need quite a few more titles on both formats to make it seem as though you’ve got a wide library to choose from and the belief that your going to see a lot more content coming.

The second was prices coming down, somewhat substantively from where they are now and number three is that consumers become confident that this is in fact the heir apparent successor to DVD. Whether its one the other or both, the developing of a confidence that there is an heir apparent is critical. The third one I think is the harder to sell because as we go out through this year, there’s going to be more and more content that comes out. I think the prices are going to drop down as we hit the second half of this year, soI think the remaining item is going to be that can consumers develop a confidence that the heir apparent has shown itself.

HTB: I think that’s critical, super critical. It’s going to be interesting to see how or even if that can be conveyed to consumers.

Ken Lowe: That’s the difficulty. Can you [manufacturers] really get that across to consumers?

HTB: Ken thanks so much for taking the time to do this, I really enjoyed the conversation.

Ken Lowe: It was my pleasure; feel free to get back in touch with anything else I can be of help with.

I want to thank Ken again for the interview. It was refreshing to speak with someone willing to take an honest look at where both formats stand and discuss the work still needed to convince the average consumer that either format is worth investing in.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray


Comments

  • James M

    I agree that both formats are equally as good as each other and none videophiles will be happy with whichever one wins this stupid war. At the end of the day I think everyone would agree that content will decide who comes out on top. When Mr Lucas and Mr Spielberg start releasing discs then we will be one step closer to a resolution. Its just a shame that George is with 20th Century and Steven with Universal for most of their films.

    Oh will this lunacy never end? Come on Hitachi, get your holographic format running and guzzump Toshiba and Sony.

  • James M

    I agree that both formats are equally as good as each other and none videophiles will be happy with whichever one wins this stupid war. At the end of the day I think everyone would agree that content will decide who comes out on top. When Mr Lucas and Mr Spielberg start releasing discs then we will be one step closer to a resolution. Its just a shame that George is with 20th Century and Steven with Universal for most of their films.

    Oh will this lunacy never end? Come on Hitachi, get your holographic format running and guzzump Toshiba and Sony.

  • paulc

    Very interesting. Honestly, I have been advocating a “vote with your wallet” campaign as an active way to force both sides to work out a compromise and have one standard. 2 very different formats will/should never be a real successor to SD DVD.

    Having some even more expensive players is no solution at all.

    AND we can really have a whole ‘nother discussion about value. When I got my first HD set a little less than a year ago, SD DVDs took a HUGE leap… in that having a wide screen source play on a widescreen screen meant that the apparent size of the image jumped 80% (based on going from a 32″ 4:3 to a 40″ 16:9, meaning a vertical image was roughly the same on both).

    Going from SD to HD at this point doesn’t seem to be as big a “jump” in enjoyment as the mere fact of seeing a substantially larger image. Couple that with the fact that for a lot of movies, one has to look pretty close to see the benefits of HD makes me think the current huge price disparity delivers substantially less value per dollar.

    Yes I know all about economies of scale, but how can that happen if we have competing formats?

  • paulc

    Very interesting. Honestly, I have been advocating a “vote with your wallet” campaign as an active way to force both sides to work out a compromise and have one standard. 2 very different formats will/should never be a real successor to SD DVD.

    Having some even more expensive players is no solution at all.

    AND we can really have a whole ‘nother discussion about value. When I got my first HD set a little less than a year ago, SD DVDs took a HUGE leap… in that having a wide screen source play on a widescreen screen meant that the apparent size of the image jumped 80% (based on going from a 32″ 4:3 to a 40″ 16:9, meaning a vertical image was roughly the same on both).

    Going from SD to HD at this point doesn’t seem to be as big a “jump” in enjoyment as the mere fact of seeing a substantially larger image. Couple that with the fact that for a lot of movies, one has to look pretty close to see the benefits of HD makes me think the current huge price disparity delivers substantially less value per dollar.

    Yes I know all about economies of scale, but how can that happen if we have competing formats?

  • Scott

    I believe that until one format substantially pulls away from the other, your average consumer will be reluctant to spend their hard earned money on either format. Why take a gamble with your money when the particular format you choose could be next years BETAMAX. The powers that be should have put their collective egos aside and agreed on one format. You would then see sales increasing exponentially. People are either very frustrated with this or they simply do not care because DVD is good enough and can be had anywhere.

  • Scott

    I believe that until one format substantially pulls away from the other, your average consumer will be reluctant to spend their hard earned money on either format. Why take a gamble with your money when the particular format you choose could be next years BETAMAX. The powers that be should have put their collective egos aside and agreed on one format. You would then see sales increasing exponentially. People are either very frustrated with this or they simply do not care because DVD is good enough and can be had anywhere.