As consumers make out their holiday wish lists this year, two stalwarts of home entertainment from the past decade will be conspicuously absent: the VCR and the compact disc player. Both are losing out to the digitization of movies and music -- and to tumbling prices.
Most music lovers are expected to choose pocket-sized digital music devices, which can store thousands of songs, instead of CD players. And for the first time, the price of DVD recorders is expected to drop below $300, enough to start pushing the devices into the mainstream.
The rise of digital music players and the improvement to the DVD format are part of the technology evolution that disrupts the home entertainment industry every decade or so, enticing consumers to upgrade their entertainment collections. The vinyl record, videocassette, and now discs have all marched music and video toward the next era: digital distribution.
"The VCR is basically pointless," said Sean Rabbitt, a 26-year-old bank clerk whose VCR will soon sit in his closet beside the portable CD player and more than 100 CDs going unused since he copied his music collection onto his home computer.
Until now the VCR, which is in 94 percent of American households, has been able to hang on to its popularity primary because of its ability to record programs from television.
"Tapes are so big and clunky," said Colleen Johnston, a law student in Watertown who much prefers her DVD player, which plays movies with a much crisper picture than videocassettes can render. "The only reason I keep them is to tape things off the television."
But the VCR is about to lose its final edge. The prices of DVD recorders, which can copy television shows or home movies onto blank discs that cost about $2, are expected to fall faster than the prices of DVD players have.
"You'll see $299 this holiday season, if not lower," said Scott Jacobi, a senior buyer for Best Buy Co., a Minnesota electronics chain that has 21 Massachusetts stores.
Consumers can already buy DVD players, which cost hundreds of dollars just a few years ago, for well under $100. Sales jumped in a short time, and about 57 percent of households now own at least one DVD player, up from 9 percent in July 2000, according to Odyssey, a San Francisco research firm.
Likewise, sales of DVD recorders, which not long ago cost over $1,000, will grow exponentially, many analysts said. The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group in Arlington, Va., predicts shipments of DVD recorders will soar to 6.8 million in 2007, from 717,000 this year.
Also on the immediate horizon at sharply lower prices: digital video recorders like TiVo, which captures TV programs onto a storage drive like a computer's. People who have them rave about the ability to pause live TV and skip commercials. After mail-in rebates the entry-level TiVo costs $199 plus monthly service fees. Analysts said these devices will eat into VCRs, too, but nowhere near as much as DVD recorders, which will include more TiVo-like features themselves.
Rabbitt, who also owns a comic book store, never misses his favorite television shows, even when he's not at home. His TiVo captures TV programs onto a storage drive, like a computer's, so he can watch them later in his Waltham apartment. As soon as prices fall enough, he plans to buy a DVD recorder for creating his own video discs. When he recently tried to transfer an episode of "Junkyard Wars" onto a videocassette for a friend, he discovered his VCR had been broken for years. "I never use it," he said.
Meanwhile, cable companies are starting to build digital recorders into their set-top boxes. Comcast Corp., for example, plans to offer the service in Massachusetts and New Hampshire next year.
The new technologies "put the final nail in the VCR coffin," said Sean Wargo, an analyst for the electronics trade group.
Joey Nicotera, a systems engineer for a Burlington software company, needs no convincing. When he moves into his new loft in the old Charleston Chew factory in Everett in March, he plans to get rid of some of the electronics devices he once thought essential.
A digital video recorder will replace the VCR beside his DVD player, while his computer and portable digital music player take over for his five-disc CD changer.
This holiday season is the first for the new generation of Internet-based music services like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and Roxio Inc.'s Napster 2.0 that allow consumers to download songs or listen to them streamed over the Internet.
CD sales have been declining since the rise four years ago of file-sharing programs like Kazaa, which allow people to download and distribute copyrighted music and movies at no cost. Those free but illegally acquired songs have stocked portable music players across the country, acclimating consumers to replacing their CDs.
Nicotera, 29, hasn't bought a new CD for at least six months. He used to download songs from Kazaa but now subscribes to Rhapsody, a service from RealNetworks Inc. that streams the songs he chooses to his computer. When he receives a CD as a gift, he copies the songs onto the PC hooked up to his stereo, and then transfers them onto his MP3 player. Then he stuffs the compact disc into a binder gathering dust on his shelf.
"The CD changer, I can't even tell you the last time I touched it," he said.
Digital distribution of music will eventually replace CDs, analysts said, because digital music files are becoming easier for more people to buy over the Internet and store on computers.
"In five to seven years the music CD industry could be pretty much eliminated by online music distribution," said Jonathan Hurd, vice president of Adventis Corp., a Boston technology strategy consultant.
But other analysts said the demise of VCRs and CD players will take longer because many consumers will not trust the new technologies enough to give up physical copies of movies and music.
Take Tony Mercadante, a 40-year-old promotions director. A custom-made pine rack takes up most of the hallway in his Everett apartment, displaying his collection of more than 2,000 CDs.
"It's a part of who I am," he said of his collection. "To have it just on a hard drive where it exists only in the virtual world, it's not the same. To me collecting means having it in your possession."
Chris Gaither can be reached at email@example.com.