Whatever happened to Blu-ray?

Whatever happened to Blu-ray?

Summary: The flamewar after 2008's "Blu-ray is dead" post re-ignited a couple of months ago. So, what DID happen to Blu-ray? The news is not all bad - and far from all good.

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TOPICS: Storage, Cloud
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Blu-ray is dead - heckuva job, Sony! proclaimed an October 2008 headline here on ZDNet - and it ignited a firestorm of comments pro and con. But some have noted that it's now 2014 and Blu-ray is still around and - as a popular corollary - I'm an idiot. 

Blu-ray: a zombie format?
After calling the win for Blu-ray in the Sony/Toshiba high-def format war in June, 2007 (see Blu-ray vs HD DVD: game over) while it was still raging, I watched Sony snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They thought they had a cash cow they could squeeze for billions, but the reality was far different.

Did Blu-ray win?
Of course! When you see consumers breathlessly counting the days until the next blockbuster comes out on Blu-ray, lining up at video stores and forking over 50 percent more for the Blu-ray version, you know you have a winner!

Oh, wait - that's a Sony circa 2008 fever dream. Video stores are mostly gone, replaced by Red Box. Grocery stores have a few dozen DVDs and some Blu-ray discs. Wal-mart does a good business with $5 Blu-rays.

But for the most part the packaged media business has collapsed. From a story on Deadline.com:

So much for the high-def discs that studios once hoped would revive home entertainment. Consumers bought about 124M Blu-ray discs in the U.S. last year, + 4.2% vs 2012, research firm IHS Technology reports this morning. But with prices falling, consumer outlays only increased 2.6% — not nearly enough to compensate for the 13.6% drop in DVD sales.

In fact, where popular DVDs regularly sold over 6-10 million US copies a year - and still do - only four Blu-ray's (Avatar, Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Despicable Me 2) have broken the 3 million US sales in a calendar year.

Clearly, Sony fumbled the transition to Blu-ray, but - credit where credit is due - they did avoid the total fiasco I predicted in 2008. Barely.

The Storage Bits take
Optical media investment is now being driven by something that didn't even exist in 2007: cloud computing. Massive Internet-scale data centers need reliable cold storage. BDXL and future Blu-ray derivatives are stepping up to the task.

These 100GB+ discs have not caught on with consumers and probably never will - buy the cloud service instead. There's no reason to release movies on them either - collected works of Steven Spielberg on 1 disc? - so these high-capacity variants look to become the first primarily cloud storage technology.

That's not a bad thing. But I do wish Hollywood would stop trying to milk Blu-ray for maximum dollars and go for maximum unit sales.

My Blu-ray of Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo - in glorious B&W and hi-fi monophonic sound - shows what digital restoration and HD video can do to help us appreciate a great film. That is Hollywood's most important legacy - if they choose to embrace it.

Comments welcome, of course. What percentage of your viewing is streaming vs disc?

Topics: Storage, Cloud

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67 comments
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  • Bluray is not dead

    1. Announce random technology is dead
    2. Get clicks
    3. ???
    4. Profit

    Ok, more seriously, announcing that blu-ray is dead would be like announcing that Ford was dead when competing car manufacturers rose up. Blu-ray is not dead; it's still the de-facto standard in physical video media. Demand for physical media may be lower, but it will always be there, and until something better arises in the physical video media genre, blu-ray will still be around.

    Yes, raw demand numbers are lower due to alternatives, but it's still the best in its class, and that will keep it alive until a new best-in-class arrives. You have to compare it to its direct competition: DVDs, HD-DVD, etc.

    File this with those silly "the desktop is dead" articles.
    AnomalyTea
    • DVD?

      We still buy more DVDs than Blu-Rays, although it is getting close to 50/50.

      The quality of HD streaming from Amazon Prime is dreadful, an upscaled DVD has less artifacts than the streamed video!
      wright_is
      • The bad news is that streaming is dependent on a high-speed connection.

        DSL technology across twisted pair (less than 10Gbps) just doesn't cut for HD-quality service. You need more like 20GBps or more.
        M Wagner
        • How are you going to stream a 4K movie?

          Yeah, they can stream in 4K (around 4000 horizontal pixels across the image). They can stream any resolution.

          But it will be so compressed that the vision quality won't do justice to the 4K screen size.

          That's where Blu-Ray will come in.

          The big question is... why the heck is anybody buying DVDs any more? DVD's offer standard definition pictures, formatted to fit on your old cathode ray tube television set. Then they stretched the pixels to fit across a wide screen.

          But you can't buy a standard definition television screen any more. Not even an LCD flat panel. All the televisions on sale these days are full 1080 HD.

          So why the heck is anyone still buying DVD's? Switch to Blu-Ray, for heaven's sake.
          Vbitrate
          • Not all of them

            Not all of the LCD panels are 1080. A number of the inexpensive LCD on sale are still 720 and a number of the no name brands are 480. For example Emerson still makes and sells 480p sets and were on sale last Christmas. 480 and 720 isn't dead either.
            CarlDBennington
          • Arbitrary prices are put on Blu-Ray disks

            Content creating companies have put an extra fee on Blu-Ray disks.

            But it is just an arbitrary price, not based on reality.

            The equipment needed to create a 1080p HD movie today is cheaper than the equipment needed to create a standard definition DVD 10 or 20 years go. Hard drives are cheaper. HD cameras are much cheaper than SD cameras used to be.

            So the extra fee on Blu-Ray disks is just a money grab that will backfire.

            Oh, and just about all TVs are now 1080 HD. The 720-line format has collapsed, and 720-format screens are harder to get. The 1080 HD screen is becoming the bottom-end of the market, as the word slowly moves to 4K Ultra High Definition. That too should give Blu-Ray another boost.
            Vbitrate
          • Unreliable format

            Remember the frustration of trying to get a blu-ray to run only to find out you needed yet another software update? DVD's were always a more reliable format, compared to blu-rays. Even HD DVD's were more reliable, but I read somewhere that the industry liked blu-rays for security reasons. Having to hook up your blu-ray to the internet just to make it work properly was probably a big stumbling block for most. If it doesn't just work out of the box, only first adapters will get onboard. Also, if you're a parent and wanted to watch dvd's in the car, regular dvd's were always the best option. Very few of my kid's dvd's are in blu-ray. That's an enormous market.
            Polyphony9@...
    • Technology has moved on

      The price of SD cards is dropping by the day.

      With the advent of transistors, thermionic valve manufacturers went out of business fairly quickly.

      The transistor is probably the single most important invention of the 20th century.
      Alan Smithie
      • Sony should create some Mac software

        Do you create any home movies?

        Even smartphones these days are fitted with 1080p HD video cameras.

        Where do people put their movies? Blu-Ray is the only way to store it. Hard drives only last 5-10 years, while the average Blu-Ray disk lasts for 50 years. The coming M-disk versions will last 1000 years. Blu-Ray is the place to archive all your stuff. With 25GB Blu-Ray disks costing $1 or less, it is cost effective and safe.

        Actually, one thing that Sony should do is create some Blu-Ray creation software for Mac OS X. The reason is twofold. Most of the content-creation people use Macs. But Apple's DVD Studio Pro doesn't support Blu-Ray because Steve Jobs was feeling pain, and Adobe has also dumped its Encore Blu-Ray software.

        Sony... make Mac software. Even better, open-source it. You'll get more profits back on the Blu-Ray than losses on the software.
        Vbitrate
        • Another Mac nut speaks

          Vbitrate,

          Why would Sony want to make software for a limited platform?
          No matter how much you wave the apple flag, the mac is still only about 7% of the market share (if that even).

          As far as content creation, that's yet another apple myth.
          The dominate platform for movie and video editing is the AVID media composer running mostly on HP Z series (Z800, Z820, Z400, Z820) Windows 7 computers.
          News rooms use AVID news cutter while integrating with AVID Interplay.
          All on Windows.

          Animated movies are created mostly on Windows systems for movement and rendered on PC type servers running Linux.

          Yes there are a FEW macs being used in some graphics creation places, but not because they are better than PCs in doing it, just the users have fall in to the mac myth and can't get out.

          Adobe Premiere Pro is starting to eat away a little of the AVID market share, mostly because its easier to use than AVID. I use it my self for my own projects and I the Encore CC I am using does create Blu-Ray disks.

          Installing a Blu-Ray writer in my Windows 8.1 PC took only a few minutes and I was ready to go with no fuss.

          Flexibility like this is why the PC and Windows will always be superior to the mac.
          DavidM9110
    • I stopped rented Blu-ray

      It just was not that much different than the regular DVD version. Now I would like to have DVD's go away completely and be replaced with Blu-ray but when faced with a choice and an extra cost every month on Netflix, I dropped the Blu-ray option and I have a 73 inch HD TV.
      remmeler
      • To be fair

        I also don't care about 3D or actually owning a movie and streaming is fine if I miss a TV show but I never found it appealing to stream from Netflix when it was free for me. I guess I am just a neo-Luddite with computers
        remmeler
    • Sounds like the words of a BluRay owner in denial.

      But don't worry - we suffered exactly the same dynamic in the high-end audio world years prior-
      The next evolution from CD was SACD. Didn't even really need a new player to play it - should have been the easiest path to evolutionary acceptance EVER.

      But it never happened. I mean, I own a few SACD's, but have you ever heard of the format?
      Why not?
      MP3 happened. You can't even argue that it isn't a step backwards in quality - but people largely have voted - they are glad to give up audio quality for convenience. MP3 players. Even your phone plays them. And who even needs MP3's really, today - you can stream from Pandora, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc...

      Same thing with movies.
      DVD was the big thing. Blu Ray was supposed to succeed it. And of course it didn't take off... Digital formats happened! And who even needs local digital content really, today - people are by far preferring to stream via Netflix, Hulu, etc.

      It's EXACTLY the same thing.

      Want a dose of reality? Ask a kid if they know what Blu Ray even is.
      It's dead.
      I never bought a Blu Ray player simply because I already lived through it with the SACD/MP3 evolution, and knew the same would be true for video - the constant is "the internet" and "the people who use it" - it's inevitable.
      geolemon
  • De-facto standard? Really?

    Then why do DVDs outsell Blu-ray even today? DVD are old. Blu-ray is new(er).

    If Sony had priced Blu-ray much closer to DVD, you'd be right, because Blu-ray's market share would be much larger. But they didn't and they're paying the price.

    For most people DVDs are the standard, even now.

    Robin
    R Harris
    • Give it time though and more will adapt to blu ray.

      There are probably people out there who have just replaced their VHS collection to DVD. The bigger the collection is the harder it is to want to upgrade that again, especially if the movies don't offer any more clarity with the blu ray adaptation. I have quite a few blu ray movies i have been collecting and there's some good deals on certain movies during a period of time (black friday being probably the biggest sale).

      I still haven't upgraded my PC's optical drive to blu ray yet but for now i am holding out, but it is one thing on my list among getting a better PSU and upgrading my graphics card. Blu ray might not yet be the standard yet but DVD's has been around for quite awhile and work just fine for most.
      MidnightDistortions
      • Optical media is only there because they can control the DRM that way...

        a) We should all be getting away from optical, there's simply no need apart from retail distribution. And retail is hampered, as you know, by the cost disparity. Sell it at the same price point (or close) to DVD and we'll all buy more. Same problem with SACD and DVDA. I've a couple but it's easier to get a iso/flac download of a ripped one.
        b) All my media is on a NAS, all my CDs ripped to it and available to anyone in the house. Absolutely NO need for the disk after that. The cars take SD cards, and you get plenty on a 16Gb one. And no need to mess about with your phone or ipod.
        c) Many of our films are ripped or downloaded and live on my NAS, streamed to the PCs or TVs in the house. Why do I want to listen to a whirring disk when I can play a file?

        The day has to come when someone invents a bulletproof DRM then sells the Film/Music on an SD card. Surely in this day and age I can buy a file ready to copy to my local hardware, and have the 'key' for it. Of course the moguls would need to sell it for less but I'll stop downloading if I can get films at a decent price, at BD quality, and I'll be happy that it can't be shared with everybody in the world. Progress is slow in the Film / Music business!!!
        johnmckay
    • Would I rather stream from the cloud at maybe 1080I

      or know I will get 1080P from a blu-ray? I always choose blu-ray. I wanted hddvd to win as I thought it was a better deal for the consumers, but once the writing was on the wall, blu-ray it is.

      Blu-ray looks better than dvd or ANY streamed media at this point.
      hoppmang
    • Availability is one reason...

      Many titles still aren't released on Blu-Ray. This is especially true of boxed sets of older television shows, where the only advantage of Blu-Ray would be a smaller package because the shows were shot in standard definition. And people are still buying catalog titles that weren't done on Blu-Ray; many of them never will because there isn't enough demand to justify a high definition remastering.
      mark@...
    • Marginal quality bump didn't justify the price

      Going from VHS to DVD was a HUGE increase in quality and convenience (no more rewinding), but the bump in quality from DVD to BR is relatively small. To me, it's not even worth the extra $1 Netflix charges. However, when I buy a movie, if the price of the BR is close to the price of the DVD, I will get the BR.
      nfordzdn
    • As for quality, Blu-Ray does defnie the de facto standard.

      Most places that have any video at all keep their Blu-Ray back in the music/games section. Their DVD's are priced as loss-leaders at the check-out.

      Most all Blu-Ray discs come with a DVD and a digital copy to attract customers who can use multiple formats. NO ONE buys Blu-Ray only sets anymore.

      Sony did miss their opportunity to cash in but, for now, they are still the state-of-the-art. The problem is that 4K technology is coming and right now, it takes a hard drive to stream 4K.

      Movie downloads (like iTunes) are quickly giving way to streaming and, as streaming gets better, Blu-Ray will fade away right along with DVD's.
      M Wagner