Blu-Ray: Still No Big Whoop

By  |  Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Blu-RayWill Apple release Blu-Ray-equipped iMacs for the holidays? Maybe–and it probably makes sense, since it’s been a while since iMacs got meaningful new features other than ongoing refinement of their industrial design. But to abuse a famous Steve Jobs quote, Blu-Ray still feels like a bag of boring to me. It’s one of the few high-profile examples of gadgetry I have no impulse to invest in.

Here’s why:

It’s not truly part of the digital world. These days, I’m less interested in getting better image quality, and more interested in doing stuff with content–sending it via wireless networking to multiple screens in my house, sticking it on my iPhone, storing it in the cloud. Blu-Ray doesn’t help with any of that. In fact, it’s designed specifically to prevent me from doing it.

The content isn’t there. At least not for me. I admit that I’m not representative of the Average American Consumer here, but I’ll never buy any blockbuster movie on Blu-Ray. I like obscure animation and box sets that aren’t going to sell by the million. For now, they come out on DVD, not Blu-Ray. That’ll change. Eventually. Probably. But if I bought a Blu-Ray player today, I’d mostly use it to watch DVDs.

It’s a stopgap. Like the 2.88MB floppy disk, Blu-Ray is ultimately an impressive (and pricey) improvement on a technology that’s going to go away. By 2012, it’s going to look almost as retro as VHS. Okay, it might take a year or two more than that. But no more.

I’m not saying that Blu-Ray will never show up in my living room or inside a computer I own. (Hey, I was a late adopter of DVD, too.) But I’d say the odds are less than fifty percent that I’ll ever get it–at least as a conscious decision which I’m excited about. (The day will presumably come when all computers that sport optical drives have it.)

But enough about me:


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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Daniel Hollister Says:

    I love my Blu-Ray player, but I acknowledge that it’s not the future of digital media. I’m a filmmaker and cinephile, and for that, there is nothing available at home that comes close to the visual awesomeness of Blu-Ray. NOTHING. The “HD” download services still have low bitrates and are not comparable. This will, of course, change as the public wants it and things get cheaper, but for the time being, I am all Blu-Ray for films.

  2. Tom Says:

    Don’t be ridiculous. Blu-ray is an amazing format. 50 Gigabytes of very high quality video, lovingly transferred from 24P film to 1080P video using advanced codecs at very high bitrates (typically about 5 to 10x higher bitrates than DVD). Lossless 24 bit 192KHz 8 channel audio. Menus that appear over the movie, so you don’t have to stop the movie to explore other options.

    Blu-ray players and drives are fairly inexpensive, and the number of available movie titles is growing quickly. Do you own a high definition TV? Do your PC displays have a resolution greater than 720 x 480? Do you have a NetFlix subscription? Do you prefer to watch films in 24P, or 60i?

    How can you knock Blu-ray when you clearly haven’t tried it?

    In another year or two the few remaining journalists who keep writing “I prefer DVD to Blu-ray” articles will be like the holdouts who say “I still prefer LP records for their warmth”.

    Apple will release a Blu-ray player… 2 years after player software was available for Windows PC users. Will you buy their excuse that they didn’t want to release a Blu-ray player until they could “do it right”?

  3. Daniel Hollister Says:

    Tom, you’re missing the point. Nobody is claiming that the quality is bad, but the bottom line is that most people don’t care. By the time people DO care, you’ll likely be able to progressively download films with great codecs, high bitrates, and great sound.

    I wish this weren’t the case, but it is. I have a beautiful Kuro Elite television with a PS3 for Blu-Ray playback, and I love it. But most people don’t really notice or say anything, including fellow filmmaking friends. Serious cinephiles dig the quality as well as others, but not enough to shell out for it.

    And, like I said, that same quality will eventually be available via digital distribution.

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Tom: I should clarify: I have tried Blu-Ray, and there are things I like about it, including the image quality. And like I said, the content situation will improve. I’m certainly not claiming that DVD is the superior format from any technical standpoint (unless you count the ease with which DRM can be defeated–but hey, that’s a technical disadvantage, theoretically).

    But unlike DVD or videotape or CD or vinyl or player-piano rolls or any other media I can remember, Blu-Ray has rolled out in parallel with another technology that’ll surely replace it eventually: digital downloads. It would be a lot easier to get excited by Blu-Ray’s virtues if the writing didn’t already seem to be on the wall for it, long-term.


  5. Pascal Cuoq Says:

    I hesitated to get blu-ray when Wall-E came out, and then again when Up came out. That’s two movies in two years that I would have enjoyed with the higher definition.

    For Up I was ready to make the jump, but then I decided to watch it in 3D at the movie theater. Quite the bad move, they put the subtitles at a ridiculous distance in front of the action, so that you can’t accomodate both at the same time. Even without looking at the subtitles, enjoying the 3D was not worth the following headache.

  6. Tom Says:

    Digital downloads will surely replace Blu-ray some day. No question about it. Assuming you have adequate bandwidth, and assuming you are OK with the DRM and the devices that support your digital downloads, they are more convenient than physical media.

    I live in Silicon Valley. I have a 3 Mbps DSL connection. I can’t get Fios, or U-verse. I don’t have adequate bandwidth for a high quality movie experience in real time (except through cable or satellite TV). None of the available digital download formats even come close to the HD quality of Blu-ray.

    Do you buy, or rent your digital downloads? What devices support your digital downloads? Are your purchases portable, or are they bound to a single PC?

    We all love the instant gratification of buying a song digitally, and listening to it moments later. But the infrastructure isn’t there yet to support this same experience with high quality movies…. nor are movie studios willing to publish in full Blu-ray quality on digital download formats. It will be some day, but I think we’re at least a few years away.

    Personally, I think my NetFlix Blu-ray subscription is more convenient than waiting for low-quality digital downloads that aren’t worth watching on my HDTV. I can watch these movies in full HD quality on my laptop when I travel, or in any rooom in the house. I paid $100 for a refurb Blu-ray player from Sears… works great. The Netflix subscription is around $15 a month. Blu-ray is not expensive anymore. You can buy a BD drive for your PC for around $70, with Blu-ray playback software.

    Blu-ray will soon include managed copies and 3D movies. I think reports of Blu-ray’s demise are premature.

  7. Jhonny Says:

    Blu-ray is just in its early stages so far. Comparing it against HD downloads or streams isnt really doable either considering the differens in quality. Not today anyway.
    In the future yes but how far into the future ? A 25-50Gb movie takes a looong time to download for most people and I cant even imagine the bandwith the companys that would distribute those movies would need to have.

    I may be wrong but thats just my point of view anyway.

  8. Daniel Says:

    Harry I was a hold out to until I saw what a huge difference my favorite movie was in blu-Ray. The funny part was I was looking for a new DVD player when I read a reveiw of this movie and some screen shots of the movie were shown. After that I was sold. The BR disk was cheaper then the DVD release and it was looking at a new movie. Looking at The Godfather or Wall-E on hi-def is awesome.

    One more thing about disk I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about backups or that my connection to the Internet has to be up. It just there always as long as I have power.

  9. John Baxter Says:

    I considered Blue-Ray when I configured a Dell desktop in spring of 2009. I decided against the extra $100 (10% of machine). I haven’t been unhappy with that choice. There is also no sense in buying for the living room, as I don’t have a TV set that will work with it. (And, at age 70, may never have one.)

    Then, too, on the rare occasion that the industry produces a movie I care about, I prefer to support Rocky and his quite successful operation of the old Rose Theatre in Port Townsend, WA. The $7 geezer price is quite reasonable there.

  10. JDoors Says:

    Blu-ray content and hardware is still ridiculously pricey when compared to the alternatives.

  11. gargravarr Says:

    When will guys like you understand that most of the rest of the world (and parts of the US) won’t have the 250gb/mo download limits that would be required to make movie downloads at good quality feasible?

    Blu-ray is great because it looks fantastic AND you have a disc. Even if I had the download limit, I still like having the disc (or the ability to make a backup).

  12. Bill Sheppard Says:

    JDoors, you’re either uninformed or have an insanely low threshold for “ridiculously pricey”. Blu-ray players are commonly under $150 now and will likely be easy to find for $100 by the holidays; a decent name-brand upconverting DVD player will approach $100. Spend a bit more (still under $200) and you can get a Blu-ray player which also supports streaming media from Netflix, Pandora, and/or others.

    The content gap has also narrowed significantly. For instance, the Blu-ray special edition of Wolverine is $21.99 at Amazon. The DVD special edition is higher at $23.49. Star Trek 2009 (due next month) is $25.99 for a three-disc Blu-ray including digital copy. The two-disc DVD is $22.99. “Up” four-disc (!) collectors pack, including DVD and digital copy, is $27.99. The two-disc DVD is $22.99. I’d certainly consider it worth an extra $3-5 (or less) for high-def, lossless audio, and digital copy and/or bundled DVD.

  13. JohnFen Says:

    Yes, Blu-ray is better. No, I don’t care. DVD is plenty good enough for me, and the quality/performance/extras improvements that Blu-ray offers are not compelling enough to get me to replace any equipment. I’ll buy blu-ray when I can’t get things that I want to see on DVD anymore.

  14. JDoors Says:

    Bill, maybe twice as expensive isn’t a big deal for you. I don’t know. My “threshold” takes price/value into consideration. A dollar piece of candy can be ridiculously pricey if a ten-cent piece is nearly the same thing. Considering the components that make up a blu-ray player or disc aren’t twice as expensive as that for DVD’s but they cost the consumer twice as much, not to mention the price of the TV and audio system required to make it worth the upgrade, I’m sticking with “ridiculous.” Apparently others agree: It’s not yet worth the premium you pay.

  15. Bill Sheppard Says:

    JDoors, a dime candy is twice as expensive as a nickel candy but isn’t necessarily a worse value. Nonetheless, DVD has had the benefit of 10 years of economies of scale and technology improvements to reduce costs dramatically. As a Blu-ray insider I can assure you many components of a Blu-ray player are much more than 2x the price of the DVD player. Regardless, Blu-ray prices are well under where DVD was at the same point in its lifetime.

    You may well not be a good candidate for Blu-ray, but your arguments regarding price simply don’t hold up for anyone who values high definition audio/video and/or the additional content which Blu-ray titles offer.

  16. JohnFen Says:

    “Blu-ray prices are well under where DVD was at the same point in its lifetime.”

    This is true, but a bad comparison — DVD was so much better than VHS that it was well worth paying the extra markup. Blu-ray is not as large of an improvement, so the prices should reflect that.

    For me, it’s not so much an issue of pricing (now), but the hassle of replacing things.

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