At the 2008 CES in January of this year, Blu-ray celebrated its “win” over HD-DVD in the so-called High Definition DVD format war. You could argue that it was good for the consumer that we now have a single high definition format, and I would argue (personally) that the best format won. So why haven’t I purchased a player yet? Why am I not buying new Titles in this format? Probably for the same reasons you aren’t:
1. Sure the quality is much better than standard DVD, but for the average consumer, standard DVD is plenty good. The newer DVD players do a great job up converting the display to HD sets and many consumers are hard pressed to tell the difference.
2. The equipment and discs are expensive. Players are, for the most part, north of $200 dollars. Discs are costly as well. Even at Amazon.com prices you’re shelling out $26 bucks for Iron Man (with a retail cost of almost $40).
3. Interactive features and new menuing schemes aren’t enough of a differentiator. No doubt about it – if you have played with the Blu-ray menuing system or seen a disc that is BD-Live enabled – you know how much better the user experience is from standard DVD, however, these enhancements don’t yet appeal to the mass market.
4. Why buy physical media when it is getting easier and easier to get HD movies from online services?
It is number 4 that I want to delve into a bit more deeply. While I’m not a huge fan of standalone VOD appliances like Roku or Vudu, some recent announcements from Netflix have turned my head. Engaget broke the news a few days ago that Netflix would begin providing movies in High Definition streamed to the Xbox 360. We’ve seen several announcements from Netflix over the past year as they have begun integration with consumer devices including Blu-ray players, TVs and a recent announcement of support on Tivo Series 3. Now we’re talking. If I’ve already invested in a high end gaming platform and have broadband to my house, there is no reason anymore for me to own a player for movie rental.
But what about owning an HD movie? With the Vudu service, you can purchase HD movies today, but they only “live” on your Vudu box. iTunes sells SD movies today (HD is only available for rental), but I predict it won’t be long before you can purchase the HD version of a movie to add to your iTunes library. Point is, there are “for sale” services emerging now, which will let you purchase the high definition version of a film, without requiring you to purchase the physical media (the disc).
Now, I don’t want to get in to a debate about what “HD” means when it’s delivered online vs. on a Blu-ray disc. I concede that “Internet HD” isn’t at the same quality level as Blu-ray HD, but I refer you to point 1 above. If it’s good enough . . .
So, here is what I expect this holiday season. Blu-ray players will see a cost reduction just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend along with select Titles. The industry needs to see a huge boost in sales, otherwise there is a real risk that Blu-ray acceptance may just limp along a la Laserdisc in the 80s (remember those things?).
My advice is wait. Wait to see how things pan out over the Holiday season. Save your money. There would be nothing worse than sinking cash into a new player and Titles only to have the industry stop producing them for lack of consumer acceptance, and go exclusively to a download/streaming model over the next year. If you do want to buy a Blu-ray player, consider the Sony PS3. While it is more expensive, you can obviously do a lot more with it than just watch Blu-ray movies.
I believe that physical media will eventually go away – maybe not next year, but certainly within the next few years as broadband penetration and entertainment devices find their way into everyone’s homes. Now, if we just had a slick way to manage all of that downloaded content to all of those devices . . .