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The Blu-ray format has struggled for several years to gain the wide acceptance accorded to its lower-resolution sibling. Even though the latest market figures show Blu-ray player penetration at nearly 20% of U.S. households, packaged media rental and sales continue to decline (they’re down about 7% Y-Y), and Blu-ray disc sales and rentals are not sufficient to make up the difference.

There’s no question that the format war with HD DVD was a major setback. (China is now using a version of HD DVD as its de facto blue laser DVD format.) But the biggest problem Blu-ray had was bad timing – the world is slowly moving away from packaged media to digital downloads and streaming.

The high cost of players and discs didn’t help, either, and in fact may have hastened the move towards digital file capture. In a conversation with a Disney executive a few years ago (right after Warner Brothers pulled the plug on HD DVD), he stated that the easiest way to make sure Blu-ray caught on was to stop pressing red laser DVDs and stop manufacturing red laser DVD players.

Time marches on. Blu-ray prices have plummeted for both the players and discs. In fact, you can buy the four-disc Toy Story 3 set from Amazon.com for $24.99 right now, and wind up with the main feature in the BD format, a BD extras disc, a red laser DVD, and a digital copy. That’s an amazingly low price on a supposedly ‘hot’ new BD release.

So, why did I decide to buy a new player? For starters, they are dirt cheap right now, and getting cheaper by the day. I paid $180 for my Panasonic DMP-DB85  through B&H Video, a price that was matched by Amazon.com. And that included free shipping via UPS Ground, which usually means overnight for me for anything coming from B&H.

Secondly, I wanted a player that would work with the CEC interface on my Panasonic TH-42PZ80U plasma. One-touch control of the player and TV is just easier for family members than fussing with a bunch of remotes.

Third, our family subscribes to Netflix, so I was interested in adding streaming to my bag of media tricks. Granted, my TiVo HD can also stream, but I don’t want to tie it up if I’m recording shows to one or both of the internal DVRs.

Fourth, Consumer Reports gave the DMP-BD85 its second-highest ranking in a recent review of Blu-ray players. Yes, I subscribe to CR, and they do a bang-up job of product testing – particularly TVs and accessories.

Finally, the image quality from the Panasonic DMP-BD65 is very good, rivaling the OPPO upscaling player it replaced. Plus, the Panasonic remote is a lot easier to use than the older-style OPPO remotes. Readers who have older OPPOs know exactly what I mean.

I don’t play that many DVDs any more, but this unit should suffice as my media hub for a while. The DMP-BD85 comes with a USB 2.0 plug-in 802.11n adapter and isn’t too difficult to configure, although the on-screen menu could use some massaging. I had everything up and running in 5 minutes, even on a secure network.

Are we getting closer to the day that conventional DVD players become extinct? Well, Wal-Mart announced they’ll have a $65 Magnavox Blu-ray player available on Black Friday. And you can buy Panasonic 65-series players for about $100 now at BJ’s Wholesale Club.

So, yes – we are getting closer to that day when Blu-ray is the only optical disc format for packaged media. Only question is, will it happen before the American consumer makes a wholesale move to digital streaming and downloads?

Posted by Pete Putman, November 19, 2010 4:50 PM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.