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With one war over and Blu-ray taking victory, there is yet another war brewing in the background ... or is there? The new question being asked by the rank and file is whether or not there is even a future for packaged media. Can you imagine a day where nobody physically rents a movie? Some are.

Historically, this battle has been ongoing via your local cable system or satellite service; it is called Pay Per View (PPV) and Video On Demand (VOD). While the providers have found great profits in this service and their customers have enjoyed the convenience, it didn't make much of a dent in VHS movie sales and rentals, nor does it impact the sales and rentals of the present day DVD. On the other hand, neither of those services provided the convenience of ownership or the performance envelope that DVD can provide. Even with broadcast HDTV, you can do far better with Blu-ray.

The internet continues to change our lives and starting this year formidable opponents to packaged video intend to use the internet to try and change the way consumers watch Hollywood blockbusters. I will not go into the specific products or technical details here, as that information will be coming from our other authors soon enough. What I will tell you is that a number of these services are going beyond TV programs and DVD movies, and being hyped as delivering the HD Blu-ray experience in your home without the Blu-ray carrier, the disc.

While you will need the internet for these services, you don't necessarily need a PC. The new kids on the block will be providing hardware in the form of a box that sits in your rack just like any other consumer product you have in your home. Some are delivering this service in real time while others will have you wait on a download. Some will be selling ownership of the content to be exclusively stored on your box, which is also directly competitive with users seeking 100 disc carousel players or hours upon hours of content in a media PC. The new kids marketing departments are leaving the impression that they can deliver a performance envelope every bit as rich and detailed as Blu-ray. That's clearly wishful thinking when comparing Blu-ray bit stream bandwidth to that of the internet. The real question will be if the common user can see or hear enough of a difference to justify Blu-ray over one of these SD/HD movie services, especially if the convenience of these new services betters packaged media.

If you as business would like to see a future for packaged media then what has been going on for the last 2-3 years behind the scenes for this years introduction by the new kids has to make you wonder if the packaged market can survive long term. Consider the proprietary hardware the new kids will be dishing out just like satellite boxes that won't be coming from multiple manufacturers. Indeed, how would an extended format war have influenced this market? We aren't going to know and I bet a number of executives didn't want to take the chance to find out, hence the quick death of HD DVD and the on going promotion of Blu-ray. Bear in mind that the replacement of packaged media by data delivery affects numerous industries involved in the art and design, software, mastering, manufacturing, distribution and retail of such a product. There is much for many to protect including your ability to purchase packaged media as a gift!

For myself I have no vested interest in the box or packaging of the disc, only the disc itself, which is why I rent nearly everything. The only titles I own are those that were given to me, I purchased because they could not be rented or I wanted 24/7 access to them at a whim. Our family habits can require the ability to watch a movie in segments over several evenings if necessary and that is one feature none of the new kids provide unless you purchase the download. None offer a way to play a calibration disc, nor do they provide such content. How do any of us know if we are getting the real deal? Currently special features are not part of the services and while special features aren't my bag they may float your boat. What about portability? Finally there is the fear factor of what will happen when the box breaks, or far worse, the hard drive in the box fails. Did I just lose my library and monetary investment? Is there any way to archive my purchases? As a collector, the shiny disc has a 30 year lifespan and the volatility of hard drive storage has no comparison.

If you look at audio, the social ownership experience of packaged media has waned dramatically over the years in favor of data only. Conversely, as evidenced by the DVD market and movie collector that experience seems firmly entrenched for now. On the other hand, our youth represents the future and they clearly don't put audio and video on the same pedestal as the older generation does. The new generation takes for granted our wonderful HT systems and widescreen movies that just over 10 years ago was considered a luxury. Let us not underestimate the fact that the younger generation has been trained by the new world of audio downloads and there is every reason to suspect they are willing and ready to do the same with movies. The new kids on the video rental block are counting on it!

Posted by Richard Fisher, March 11, 2008 9:35 AM

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About Richard Fisher

Richard Fisher is the President of Mastertech Repair Corporation, serving north east Atlanta, Georgia, and has been servicing, calibrating and reviewing audio video products since 1981. Tech Services USA, a division of Mastertech, creates sites, communities and libraries for consumers and professionals to share their technology knowledge and learn from each other. These include The ISF Forum and HD Library. HDTV Magazine exclusively publishes HD Library and Forum for Tech Services USA.

Richard is ISF and HAA certified providing calibration and A/V reproduction engineering services. Richard is a technical consultant and also provides performance ISF and HAA home theater systems and calibration via Custom HT. Mastertech Repair Corporation is a factory authorized service center for Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba and a member of the National Electronics Servicing Dealers Association, NESDA, and the Georgia Electronics Servicing Dealers Association, GESDA.