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Today’s Show:

Can Blu-ray pull it off?

Blu-ray would like to supplant DVD and take over as the dominant video format in households all around the world.  We see the advantage from a pure quality perspective, but believe that costs have to line up for it to actually happen.  With so many forces pulling against it, can Blu-ray really become the successor to DVD?

Player prices

Here in the US, the magic number, in our minds at least, has always been $100.  Once players could get down into the sub-$100 price range, the difference between a DVD player and a Blu-ray player would be small enough for most people to just bite the bullet and pay it.  We seem to be there now.  What do you really get for that price?

Braden recently purchased a Samsung BD-P1590 for $89.  Sure it was refurbished, so it’s a bit of a roll of the dice, but it works flawlessly.  For that price, you get a Blu-ray player that supports 1080p, BD-Live, DTS HD and Dolby True HD, and has built-in Ethernet for Netflix, Blockbuster Pandora and YouTube Streaming.

So not only do you get a great upscaling DVD player with HDMI capabilities, you also get a bunch of options for streaming music, movies and TV shows.  and to top it all of, it will play Blu-ray discs as well.  The player needed updated firmware, which seems to be a Blu-ray curse, so setup took quite a while.  But once it was setup, it works great.

Disc prices

Many also believe that the disc prices need to be on par with DVD prices before Blu-ray will really take off.  We aren’t so sure that’s true.  Every Blu-ray player will also play DVDs, so if you want to save money, you can just buy the DVD.  A buyer could choose to reserve Blu-ray disc purchases for those movies that really benefit from the enhance audio-visual experience.

That said, how much is the premium for Blu-ray right now?  Looking back at a few of the more popular new releases from the last few weeks at Amazon: Cop Out with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan costs $16.99 on DVD and $19.99 on Blu-ray.  But the Blu-ray includes the DVD and a digital copy.  The Losers with Zoe Saldana and The Bounty Hunter with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston are both priced exactly the same.  The Losers includes the DVD and digital copy with The Bounty Hunter does not.

There are many other cases just like this.  The percentage increase sounds high, an 18% premium for Blu-ray.  But in truth, it’s only $3 – less than most people spend at Starbucks.  Not only is it only $3, but you also get the DVD and a digital copy for easily throwing on your iPod or cell phone.  For $3, especially considering you get the DVD in the package, it seems like a pretty simple choice to go ahead and pull the trigger for the Blu-ray.

Other factors

There are still a few hardware devices that are conspicuously absent.  We haven’t seen Blu-ray take off in the automobile or the portable device markets.  Sure the screens are too small to get any real benefit from Blu-ray, but if you expect people to buy Blu-ray disc instead of DVDs, they need to be able to play them anywhere they play DVDs now.

We don’t have any real theories on why those devices haven’t quite ever materialized.  But we’d like to theorize that movies studios have come up with the triple play package to cover for this lack of options with Blu-ray discs.  You don’t have to worry about the Blu-ray only playing at home of the package includes a DVD for your car and a digital copy for your iPad or Zune.

Streaming

Perhaps the biggest threat to Blu-ray isn’t DVD, but streaming video.  Streaming may be the thing that takes over for DVD, eliminating the physical media altogether.  Many believe this is the reason Netflix is being so aggressive in establishing itself as the preeminent destination for video streaming.  In a few years they won’t need to mail discs to your home, Blu-ray or otherwise.

We’ve long held that the convenience factor for streamed content is by far its biggest upside.  That convenience typically comes at the cost of quality and overall experience.  Many believe that streaming will never take over for DVD, and especially not Blu-ray, because of the sacrifice in quality.  Many early detractors thought the same thing about MP3, but iTunes sales continue to soar while CD sales have plummeted.

And to be perfectly honest, most movies are great rentals.  By the time we’re older than 8 or 9, we don’t sit around and watch the same movie over and over again.  We watch it once and mail it back.  Streaming is perfect for that.  In many cases, streamed quality is good enough.  For the movies we mentioned before, you really don’t get too much benefit from the Blu-ray format, so DVD, quality will more than suffice.

Conclusion

Blu-ray seems to have hit that sweet spot we’ve been waiting for, but we’re yet to see it really take over for DVD.  It shows signs of life, but not the dramatic adoption some were hoping for.  Unfortunately for Blu-ray, the stars may have just aligned against it.  The war with HD-DVD in its early days didn’t help anything, but ultimately people are content with DVD and probably won’t migrate away from it in droves until there’s a compelling reason to do so.  Will streaming be that reason?  We aren’t sure, but Blu-ray should probably keep an eye on it.

Download Episode #435


Posted by The HT Guys, July 22, 2010 10:05 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.