Blu-ray is dead: the sequel

Bill Hunt, Blu-ray defender?Over on The Digital Bits blogger Bill Hunt rebukes me for calling Blu-ray dead.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Bill Hunt, Blu-ray defender? Over on The Digital Bits blogger Bill Hunt rebukes me for calling Blu-ray dead. Then he goes on to agree with almost everything I said - except for the conclusion.

With friends like that, Blu-ray doesn't need me!

Industry cheerleader opinion: Bill says I don't have the expertise to comment on a home video format - despite my large video collection, 10 foot HD home theater, Blu-ray player and HD video production work - but then goes on to say:

  • ". . . Blu-ray Disc player and movie prices are still too high."
  • "The BDA's licensing fees are too high. . . "
  • ". . . there are still too many barriers (not the least of which is cost) to smaller content producers . . . ."
  • "The need to continually update player firmware for title after title has been very frustrating . . ."
  • "The economic slowdown and the lengthy format war haven't helped either."

He even says:

I do think the industry should take a look at Harris' recommendations for what a more "forward looking strategy" for the Blu-ray format ought to look like. I actually agree with a couple of them.

I think he meant "all of them" since he didn't note any disagreements.

Then he sums up his view, saying:

Blu-ray isn't going to replace DVD, the single most successful format in the history of consumer electronics, and anyone who thinks otherwise is out to lunch. But Blu-ray's future is plenty bright, folks.

My Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) AACS Decoder Ring defines "bright" as

(adj) struggling to achieve market parity with a 10 year old technology.

Bill, I am humbled.

Download denial We differ in how the drama plays out. I think that watchable HD downloads will enable the iTunes generation to stop buying bits on plastic.

Bill doesn't mention the download alternative for HD content distribution. That makes it tough to figure out what he thinks about it other than he rejects it.

If I had to guess, I think the mix a few years from now is going to be 50% DVD, 30-40% Blu-ray and some smaller percentage of downloading.

Diving into downloads The knocks against HD downloads fall into several buckets:

  • Poor quality. Those crummy 128k tracks killed iTunes. Seriously, codec technology is improving at a high rate. The percentage of people who can tell the difference will continue to shrink.
  • Bandwidth limits. True, America trails much of the industrialized world in last mile bandwidth, but we are improving. And don't confuse downloading with streaming HD - the former doesn't need high bandwidth to work.
  • Storage cost. Storage prices are dropping 40-50% annually. If it is a problem today - and most consumers have lots of unused disk space - it won't be tomorrow.

Remember when people used modems? The same objections held then against music downloads. Today's trends work to make video downloads commonplace.

The Storage Bits take It doesn't matter that videophiles, studios, hardware vendors and rental chains love Blu-ray. What matters is what consumers think.

The high-def war has been over for 8 months. Blu-ray's less than 4% share of disk unit sales hasn't budged - although its revenue share is about 15% due to its higher prices and younger catalog.

Cheaper players will help grow the available market. But there is still the disk price problem. Blu-ray disks are, on average, about 4x the average DVD price once you factor in the $5.99 back catalog specials.

Like SACD, Polavision and DIVX some home media formats fail to catch fire with consumers. Blu-ray, it seems, is another.

I'd like to see Blu-ray become as common as DVDs are today. But the window of opportunity is closing fast.

Comments welcome, of course.

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