Streaming beats Blu-ray

Streaming beats Blu-ray

Summary: 5 years ago put all my CDs into a box and threw out hundreds of CD cases. My 1200 DVD collection is next. Why? Streaming.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware

It's done. Blu-ray has lost the war for the American living room.

According to Bloomberg News market research firm IHS Screen Digest says legal streaming viewings will more than double this year to 3.4 billion this year from 1.4 billion last year.

This is despite Blu-ray player prices tumbling from their nose-bleed levels 5 years ago to as low as $49. And hundreds of Blu-ray movies costing less than $10.

But why?

Convenience rules the American home I moved late to CDs in the '90s because I bought albums, taped them, and listened to the cassette. Audio quality never declined, so I didn't think CDs had anything to offer.

But once I bought one it wasn't the sound quality that blew me away - it was the convenience. The small discs didn't need cleaning or protection from fingerprints. And no hand/eye coordination was needed to find a track.

DVDs killed VHS for convenience and picture quality. But Blu-ray added nothing except slightly better picture quality - if the remastering was done well.

Hollywood's traditional formula Movies have been battling lower-cost and more convenient media every since TV reared its beady eye 60 years ago. TV used the 4:3 format, so movies went wide. TV was black and white, so movies went Technicolor. TV had monaural sound, so movies went stereo and then surround sound.

But now what? Consumers like me - 10' screen, surround sound - can have a very nice home theater experience for a couple of grand. With streaming from Netflix, Hulu and Vudu, I can sit in my leather recliner, fiddle with my remote and have a wide choice of great movies.

The other night: The Graduate. And I own the DVD!

The Storage Bits take Picture quality just isn't the win that Hollywood hoped would drive Blu-ray sales. Effects heavy pictures benefit the most, but how many people re-watch those?

4k video is coming on faster than I expected, and that might be Hollywood's - and Blu-ray's - next opportunity to win back home theaters. America's sclerotic networks can't handle the higher bit rates, making optical media relevant again.

But they shouldn't bet on it, because resolution is simply not that important once you get to close to HD quality. Contrast, saturation and color accuracy are more important - and current technology is pretty good.

Hollywood CFOs went for short-term profits over long-term business development. The result: a nation now trained to stream lower-quality video over buying higher quality Blu-ray video. Cue violins.

Comments welcome, of course. Anyone want to buy 50 linear feet of shelving?

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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  • An alternative

    Although I have streaming available (Amazon Prime), it's a huge P.I.T.A. Navigating through the dross to find something worthwhile is a nuisance. Navigation through a flick (fast-forward/jump back, chapter) is clumsy and time-consuming (and I have a 20 Mbit service). Perhaps it will be better someday, but it's not something I actually use much.

    Before you toss those DVDs, think about a home server. I have a little 3TB WD drive that supports DNLA, and a little TV-side device that can easily access the drive and send it to an HDMI input. The system's easily expandable to handle more sets.

    Sure it takes a while to rip the stuff, but with a little thought you can put it into a background workflow. Turns out that DVD encoding is so crude that you can rip it into H.264 at a quarter the size with no detectable loss (and I'm fussy). My HD-DVDs and BluRays get stuffed in there as well.

    The real measure of its success is the reaction of my wife. When I started the process, she looked at it disparagingly as a 'boy thing'. But her favorite BBC comedies are on there and she'd shoot me if I took it down now. And the video closet is now full of cobwebs.
    • yup

      LOL sounds just like my case... did the same, H264 and a single AC3 audio track (also subs with original language if the movie was foreign) and it's amazing how small you can encode that DVD without any "noticable" degradation. I got on average 3/5 reduction in file size, in some cases 4/5!

      Wife just shook her head, but after it was all said and done (about 3 months, because i tweaked the encoding settings after getting about half-way through our movies and ended up re-encoded them), she loves the convenience of watching "drop dead diva" or "numb3rs" on Netflix on our TV, listening to albums while cleaning the apt, and picking from our DVD collection without looking for the box, even my daughter, who's only 6 uses netflix for kids with ease :)

      She'd also kill me if I pulled the plug or didn't get it working on the few times the system got borked... thank god for system backups ;)

      Next up is books! I could get rid of an entire bookshelf i could do the same with her book collection!
    • Agree about Amazon Prime video

      I have Amazon Prime and tried to use their video service. The selection is sparse, navigation a pain and, overall, too much bother. I almost am exclusively on Netflix now. One oddity: Redbox is cheaper for new stuff than Vudu. The convenience of streaming isn't worth $3.
      R Harris
  • Not for most people

    I live in the country. We have a DSL internet connection. Sometimes it goes as high as 10mbps. Most of the time, it averages 1-2mbps. I cannot stream high-definition content. And to me, there is a huge and very noticeable difference between HD and DVD quality. So I will continue to buy Bluray discs into the forseeable furure (or download .mkv Bluray rips to watch later). I know that of my friends, the only ones who have an internet connection capable of reliably streaming movies are those who live in the city. The farther out toward the edge you go, the lower the available bandwidth. I don't see this changing anytime soon - maybe 10 or 15 years from now. Even cell service in this area isn't that great. There is 3G available, but no 4G. And 3G is way too expensive to stream movies.
  • Again...

    No Closed Captioning and lack of a standard service Make streaming a poor option.

    If one service ran everywhere and had closed Captioning I would use it but, it doesn't so, I limit what I buy with it.

    Amazon refuses to let their streaming app run on anything but the fire and, Apple refuses to let theirs stream to anything they don't make!
    • @Peter Perry

      Peter, I don't disagree with the gist of what you say, but I will offer a small correction. I have Amazon Prime (had it anyway) and I can stream to my computer as well as my Panasonic blu-ray player. While the list of devices isn't as large as I'd like, it is growing.
  • Changing Habits

    Something I've noticed at my household is that with streaming our viewing habits have changed. We've almost completely stopped watching movies and for the most part stream episodes of TV shows. Watching an entire season of a show gives you much more time to become involved with the characters/storyline. When my wife and I talk about what we want to watch now we almost always choose streaming TV episodes.
  • Love Blu-Ray quality but...

    I love the quality of Blu-Ray on our 82" DLP and lots of good stuff for under $10, but its pathetic how long it takes from disk insertion until you can actually watch the damn movie! All the stupid menu crap of DVD is even worse on Blu-Ray. IMHO this mostly makes Blu-Ray more trouble than its worth.

    Its why I've ripped all our DVDs and put them on a media player box so we can just watch the movie without navigating a bunch of stupid menus first!

    I guess AT&T U-verse is watching streaming IP video on some level, we are very happy with it, but it can't touch the quality of Blu-Ray.
  • Problem with streaming is Bandwidth

    I mean lets face it, having all your movies in the cloud is great unless you are capped on your bandwidth. For 40-50 a month it's really ridiculous there is any cap on bandwidth. Until this changes though one can almost expect blu ray or dvd to live on. I've seen how close we get to that cap a month and it's scary. I'm sure we've gone over it once or twice even.

    Cable companies / telecomm providers LOVE ultraviolet and love the cloud because it just means more $$$. I'm sure the studios and them conspired to create it as well.
  • No surprise really

    If it was all about "picture quality" the cable companies would have folded LONG ago.
  • Rebuttal

    Dear Mr. Harris,

    With all due respect, you are an idiot.

    (And before you make fun of my username, it's a joke.)
  • Is it "All about the eyeballs" again? Hahaha.

    Here's the extremely pertinent bit from the IHS report so many sources seem reluctant to print in their rush to pronounce streaming "teh winnorz".

    "Online viewing is expected to generate $1.7 billion for 2012, compared to $11.1 billion created from viewing on physical formats. By 2016, online viewing will still only account for 17% of associated industry revenue, while physical videos will generate 75% and video-on-demand pay television will account for the remaining 8%"

    Squaring that circle is the big stumbling block for anyone pronouncing Blu-Ray (or DVD for that matter) "dead" (as I think Mr. Harris has been doing unsuccessfully since HD DVD died?). All you can eat streaming is fine in it's place - delivering old content at a reasonable price, but in order to secure the new releases which SVOD doesn't have but optical does, subscription prices would need to rise substantially in order to recompense the studios which make the content.

    It's catch 22 for the streaming providers, there's no first sale for them to fall back on with digital. They can either stick with subscriptions at low prices and only serve up old content and always play second fiddle to premium content distribution, or convince the studios to allow streaming of newer content instead of just selling and renting it on OD and pay (and charge their customers) accordingly. What's worse is that digital sales (EST) have been an abject failure, stalling at a fraction of Blu-Ray's revenue, despite the prominence of iTunes, so supplementing subscription with sell-through isn't even an option.

    Really though, this latest furore talking about "views" is pretty laughable... anyone else remember the .com crash? All those sites valued at hundreds of millions because they had millions of "eyeballs" (views) but little to no actual revenue? One just has to take a look at Netflix's balance sheet for their streaming service to see that they hand the vast majority of money to the studios, with little to nothing left to cover them once their disk rental service stops subsidising the company.


    Milt R. Smith
    Milt R. Smith
    • Can't agree ...

      What I'm sure we can agree on though is that such reports are almost always seriously flawed because they fail to take into account the unforeseen consequences of other trends - unsurprisingly!

      I've not even gone to Blu-Ray, my son wanted an Xbox. I can't see the point in buying a dedicated BR player, I have more than enough DVD's and I don't see any films that would be significantly improved by being higher quality - I'm more interested in acting and story quality.

      With the constant gradual rise in bandwidth ... my local exchange will be 100mb soon ... streaming is good enough ... and seriously I've only just made more space by getting rid of all my books and moving my DVD's into the attic ... why would I want to clutter my living space with BR?

      The deathknell for BR though is that so many kids are more than happy to use their 'phones to stream movies and when they're at home in front of the screen it's the games machine they'll be using not watching films.
  • Streaming

    Great article Robin . For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on BD Player by using UnoTelly or similar tools.