Blu-ray Ain’t Gunna Happen


Blu-ray was supposed to be the ‘new’ DVD … like DVD became the ‘new’ VHS tape.

After Blu-ray won the format wars over DVD-HD in February 2008 it was supposed to take over as the primary media format for movies and TV series. Movies and TV series on Blu-ray were supposed to be selling 1 for 1 (an equal number of Blu-ray sales to DVD sales) by mid-2009. It is now almost mid-2010 and it still hasn’t happened—and it is never going to happen.

The DVD format will remain king of the sales until the next paradigm gets full traction, and the next paradigm is not Blu-ray; it is on-line direct viewing and downloading of movies and TV series.

Blu-ray was supposed to knock people over with its massive playback quality improvement compared to DVD content. The vast bulk of DVD content is encoded at 576 lines whereas Blue-ray content is encoded at 720 lines (some is encoded at 1080 lines—which is only useful if you have a 1080 line 16:9 screen).

We were told the quality of Blu-ray playback would be like comparing VHS playback with DVD playback. But it isn’t. The comparison is nothing like this. If watching and listening to DVD playback was 2000 percent better than watching and listening to VHS tape playback, then watching Blu-ray playback is maybe around 20 percent better than watching DVD playback. To many people there is no noticeable difference between DVD and Blu-ray playback when viewed at the typical viewing distance on a ‘normal’ living room LCD or Plasma screen.

SerenityGlau However, there is a noticeable difference for those people with a 100” (or larger) screen in a theatre room setup with fully operational 5.1 (or 6.1, or 7.1, etc.,) sound happening. But that eliminates a whole lot of potential buyers. Also, even for people with such a set up they are not going to replace all of their exiting DVD titles with Blu-ray—which is what happened when DVD took over from VHS tape. What they will do is buy selected favourite titles in the Blu-ray format (like “The 5th Element” or “Serenity” or anything with Summer Glau in it) and thereby only replace 5 or 10 percent of their existing DVD collection with Blu-ray.

Glau01 The other thing working heavily against Blu-ray is that the 'younger’ generation—anyone under about 30—are perfectly happy to watch highly compressed downloaded (and usually pirated) versions of movies and TV series. These downloads are generally not coded as full frame (so they have to be played back in a down-sized Window because if they are full-sized they lose contrast badly), tend to have sound-sync issues, are often over compressed to the point of getting foggy (digital noise), do not have perfectly smooth step-less motion (in parts at least, and sometime through the whole movie or episode), and suffer from serious compression artifacting at least once every 10 minutes of playback. Basically, in terms of quality of playback, the under-30s are happy to watch movies and TV series of a quality that is seriously sub-DVD standard.

So why would the under-30s bother with Blu-ray?

They might, for that special movie they love. That one-in-a-year movie that they will take the trouble to move into the theatre room in order to watch. Possibly one with Summer Glau in …..

So, all of the above taken together paints a bad news story for Blu-ray.

Movies and TV series on DVD currently out-sell Blu-ray by 12 to 1. My view is that it might get to 10 to 1, maybe even to 8 to 1, but that is about is good as it is going to get. They could try to force people to buy Blu-ray disks by phasing out DVDs from the market, but I really cannot see that happening. Rather than getting people to buy the Blu-ray format what this is more likely to do is push people to going ‘online’ more than moving over to Blu-ray. Especially as online movie and TV series content improves in quality and availability, and the Internet gets faster and cheaper.

I guess one other option ‘they’ have is to put Summer Glau in a lot more movies :-)