Blu-ray's special Xmas gift: no 3D for you!

The Blu-ray Disk Association (BDA) announced last week that your brand new Blu-ray player is already obsolete: it is incompatible with the new 3D Blu-ray spec.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

The Blu-ray Disk Association (BDA) announced last week that your brand new Blu-ray player is already obsolete: it is incompatible with the new 3D Blu-ray spec.

Should you care?

Cash cow or albatross? The hurried adoption of 3D - a costly new medium with a 0.000% share of the home market - smells of desperation. Once the novelty wears off, will the hassle and expense of special glasses, a new HD3D TV and a player attract a mass audience that still hasn't bought into Blu-ray?

Quick answer: nope.

Blu-ray reality check Back on Planet Earth, how is Blu-ray doing? Not so well, but thank you for asking.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 2 years after Blu-ray "won" the HD format war:

. . . the take from Blu-ray has been underwhelming. The high-definition home-video format, now four years old, will produce . . . 14 percent of anticipated sales of regular DVDs this year, and half what the older format produced in its fourth year, in 2000.

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And since Blu-ray disks cost more than DVDs, 14% way overstates the unit sales percentage. Most Blu-ray sales are new movies at high prices, while the DVD market includes many sales at $10 or less.

Dreaming of a Blu Christmas Low prices - lower than DVD players were at the 4 year mark - are spurring player sales this year. Wal-Mart offers an $80 player - an easy impulse buy.

The low prices are working. Another WSJ article (subscription may be required) notes that Blu-ray player sales are up 54% this year, but with a twist:

. . . shoppers are also flocking to models that cost a bit more, . . . for their ability to stream content from the Internet, including movies, television shows and music from services like Netflix Inc., Google Inc.'s YouTube and Pandora Media Inc.

The question for Hollywood is: will people load up on Blu-ray disks in the middle of a Great Recession when online content is so much more convenient?

The Storage Bits take I have a nifty home theater - 10 foot HD screen, 5.1 surround sound, Blu-ray player, leather recliners - and many visitors. Blu-ray's sharper picture is only rarely noticed: people get involved with a story, not a picture.

While I'd like Blu-ray to be a success, and I prefer physical media, Hollywood can't count on Blu-ray, even 3D Blu-ray, to reignite disk sales. The landscape has changed permanently.

  • Competition for viewer attention is much higher, thanks to all the distractions on the Internet. That will only increase.
  • 3D has a chance in theaters, assuming the issues of viewer headaches and dorky glasses are overcome.
  • The brewing "format war" in home 3D delivery systems will slow adoption just as much as the lack of 3D content will.
  • The early popularity of networked download appliances is a warning to home media server vendors: you've fallen way short of meeting home market needs. I'm looking at you, Apple TV.

Hollywood's best hope is a ringtone strategy: encourage consumers to regard media as disposable fashion, not "content." Low prices and multiple download/player formats will let consumers buy and enjoy without counting pennies - or crying too much when they lose copies.

The bits are free, after all. And the competition is fierce. The multi-billion dollar ringtone market is a model, not a mistake.

Comments welcome, of course. PS3 owners, don't worry: you are compatible with the new 3D spec. A personal supercomputer has its advantages.

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