Wednesday, May 7, 2008

An Observation: Blu-ray and Digital Distribution

Earlier this week IGN Gear reported that numerous Hollywood Studios have announced their support for digital distribution through the use of iTunes, resulting in movie and television support for iTunes. While iTunes already supports these formats, there is usually a huge delay for when a movie goes up onto its database, but because of these deals with those studios iTunes would have the ability to release a digital version of the movie on the same day as the DVD or Blu-ray hits stores, for a fixed rate.

This is a huge step for digital distribution, which many call the future of all media. This is already apparent with the music industry, where record sales have dramatically declined and CDs are slowly becoming obsolete. I mean, why go to the store and buy the CD when you can just download it, usually at a cheaper price, and have it on your iPod in a matter of minutes? The same thing is occurring in the world of movies and television.

Which brings me to the topic of Blu-ray. Disks with so much space that studios can give us versions of the film in glorious high definition. While many cool kids support the Blu-ray format, the general public still isn't exactly onboard, even with the fall of the HD-DVD. This has me asking, will Blu-ray end up have a sort of niche market while the rest of the world jumps straight ahead to digital distribution?

The world was able to go from VHS to DVD because it was such a drastic difference in quality and efficiency; no more tapes to accidentally record wrestling over, no more rewinding, and much better visual quality. But with Blu-ray, some people can't even tell the difference, and to really capture the full extent of it all you need a high definition screen, Blu-ray player, and a high end sound system, and generally that may be too much for people.

For the typical media viewer, say, my mom, she is just now getting used to the features on the DVR. She doesn't know about high definition, nor does she really care. All she needs is TFC and the ability to record it, and to her that's more than enough. My dad can't even operate the TV correctly, and throwing him into an environment with a Blu-ray player, a high end A/V receiver, and so on might not be worth the hassle.

So if Blu-ray involves so much work to really achieve its full capabilities, then why bother? Obviously the answer is quality. To entertainment fiends like myself, the pure beauty in high definition is seriously irresistible. There's nothing more eye catching than watching football games in HD, or watching a well-transfered Blu-ray movie. But this is once again relevant to the music industry. Many people are happy with their iTunes downloads, or even the radio, but to the audio elite, the CD is still the best way to go because of the full bitrate you achieve. Plus many people like having a hard copy with artwork and lyrics, as well as additional pamphlets. And then there are the hardcore vinyl folks, who love the authentic crackling when their favorite song record is spinning.

The real question I'm asking is will Blu-ray be something of an elitist market, or will digital distribution take the mainstream just like it has with the music industry? Only time will tell, once again it's just something to think about.


  1. It's interesting to note the failure of high fidelity audio formats like DVD-A and SACD. These were both trumped by a lo-fi standard (mp3), a format that's more lossy than CDs.

    I wouldn't be surprised if blu-ray never emerged from a niche market; DVR and digital distribution (like iTunes) are increasing in popularity everyday, and this presents a challenge to the viability of disc formats.

    I still believe there will be a strong market for blu-ray and here's why: In my opinion, the reason why high-fidelity audio was such a failure was because people like to multitask while listening to music.

    When people listen to music, they're driving, they're jogging, they're doing hw, etc. For most listeners, the quality of their music has more to do with hardware (good speakers or good headphones) rather than the bitrate of the music or if the music is in 5.1 (who the fuck is going to sit on their couch just to listen to beethoven's fifth in surround).

    For movies it's different though. There's a level of immersion to it not found in music alone, and the quality of the source material actually makes quite an impact. When I watch a movie for the first time or for the first time on blu-ray, I don't do jack shit except watch the fucking movie.

    Another big boundary that keeps blu-ray viable is bandwidth. Downloading a 100mb cd could take as little as 5 minutes on a cable connection. Downloading a 50 GB 1080p movie is gonna take a lot longer. Until the people at my school start getting that fiber optics shit to the mass market, no one's going to want to download a movie file almost as big as their laptop hard drive.

    People don't refer to music as an 'experience' in the same respect as movies, and for this reason, a viable market will exist for hard copy, high-fidelity disc format movies.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to leave the longest comment ever, I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

  2. I agree for the most part, but there are people that simply sit down, put their CD into their disk drive or vinyl onto their record player and listen to every single little detail. The beauty in listening to a masterful recording of an orchestra in surround (with the proper equipment) really does have a huge impact because you can achieve that level of high clarity audio, as if you were sitting in the concert hall of the London philharmonic.

    But yeah that level of satisfaction is only for a select bunch, like the people who don't eat fast food or those who only buy high end brand name clothing.

    and yeah longest comment ever

  3. It is really great to watch movies in Blu Ray format. It is very clear and the quality is really superb. But I guess its downfall will be the fact that it is not that easy to operate and it is quite pricey than the usual CDs and DVDs.