For the past couple of years, I’ve been ranting to friends, co-workers, and confused strangers about why I couldn’t see any scenario where Blu-Ray was going to replace DVD as a format anytime soon. Thankfully, this was in person, not in print or pixels, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be eating those words in the sooner-than-you’d-think-future. While I don’t think the releases will ever reach the same market penetration DVD did, it’s becoming obvious that Blu-Ray players will become standard in the next year or two and DVD players will become harder and harder to find soon after that. Here are the reasons I used to give why I thought Blu-Ray was a bust, and below them, why I was wrong.
1. “People aren’t going to replace that DVD collection they just spent the last decade trying to build.”
They don’t need to. The key concept I was missing here was “backwards compatibility”. Most of the new players coming out not only still play regular DVDs, they upscale them to 1080p, which basically means they look much better on your big-screen HDTV. The fact that they don’t have to toss their DVDs means people can take their time only buying new releases on the new format or slowly replacing prestige titles where picture quality makes a big difference.
2. “The price is prohibitively expensive, and I don’t see it going it down enough anytime soon.”
What I forgot here was how technology pricing doesn’t follow a gently sloping curve. Prices on Blu-Ray players and releases have fallen off a cliff lately, especially during the Black Friday sales. There were many releases that were cheaper than their DVD counterparts were a week earlier. At least on Amazon, a few of the Blu-Ray titles outsold the DVD versions, a crucial inflection point for the format. Plus, the players have gone through a process of commoditisation, where the product and manufacturing process becomes homogenous, and the difference in quality between brands is negligible. Manufacturers can either participate in the race to the bottom with pricing, or try to differentiate their line with inessential bells and whistles to lure the upscale consumer. This same process is going on with HDTV’s reaching ridiculously low prices this season. Anyone buying those will probably get around to getting a sound system, and notice that a lot of the home-theater-in-a-box setups come with Blu-Ray already. That’s how I ended up with one.
3. “It doesn’t look that much better.”
On a 25 inch TV or your laptop, no, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. On a 35 inch or larger, it matters a lot. It’s not so much that Blu-Ray blows you away every time – it’s that your DVDs start to look like crap when blown up on an HDTV screen, as I noticed when my Planet Earth DVD set looked much less impressive than it did on my laptop. It’s nowhere near the difference that the VHS to DVD conversion was, but it’s enough to make a difference to people who bothered to get a big TV. And according to Consumer Reports, that’s becoming a larger percentage of consumers than ever before. If you’re going to the trouble of having a “home theater experience” or whatever, regular DVDs just aren’t going to cut it.
4. “The additional features Blu-Ray offers are lame.”
Yes, a lot of them are silly at best, and the commercials touting them only make Blu-Ray as a format look stupid. No, Movie Studio, no one wants to play your lame Men in Black java game, text friends while watching Sleeping Beauty, visit some abandoned message board for The Mummy, or play Beverly Hills Chihuahua trivia. But things like Netflix and Pandora streaming (available on a lot of new players) and bookmarking your favorite scenes are, to use the technical term, pretty damn sweet. It’s not enough to make the jump alone, but it helps make the case.
OK, after that all that, I have to swear that I’m not being paid by the National Blu-Ray Promotion Committee. I also realize it’s suspiciously coincidental to see a universal tipping point slightly after I converted to the Blu-Ray side myself. I know it’s going to be a while, especially since obvious contenders like Star Wars and much of Spielberg’s catalogue aren’t yet available, and not everyone has – or is ever going to get – a big enough TV to care about the difference in picture quality. Not to mention that some titles don’t even really need the Blu-Ray treatment; it’d be hard to make the case for why you need to swap out your Swingers or Knocked Up DVDs for a pristine new Blu-Ray version. But still, for the reasons I stated above, I’m pretty sure we’ll soon start setting aside some nostalgia for DVD the same way we do for eight-tracks and VHS tapes.