iCloud and the death of BluRay

June 24th, 2011 § 0 comments

Even while the HD-DVD/BluRay format war was still raging I was certain it would result in a Pyrrhic victory as the winner would go down as our equivalent of the LaserDisc. Though superior in quality to it’s rivals VHS and BetaMax it was impractical (beyond nostalgia I doubt many actually like flipping records over half way through) and was wiped out when it’s far more convenient cousin the DVD came out in the mid 90’s. All the advantages of the LaserDisc (better quality, skip instead of fast forward) were squeezed into a far smaller package. Of course this came with some trade offs such as the much loved “This operation is prohibited” feature; God forbid you let me watch the movie I paid for without watching your ads. Still the benefits were great and soon people were dancing on the grave of VHS. The same can not be said of BluRay however and I have long believed digital (not locked onto a disc) content would bring the true death of DVD. With the recent announcement of iCloud I believe the distribution model for such a revolution has finally arrived.

The problems with BluRay

To most consumers I think BluRay offers even fewer advantages to it’s predecessor than LaserDisc did. It offers a 1080p picture to match that of our HD televisions but this can actually make older movies look less cinematic unless you setup your player in a certain way1. The menus have some improvements and the on screen display shows a nice little timeline of where you are in the movie. We have to pay for these minor enhancements with longer load times and the $@#(*$&(* inability to resume play!!! My DVD player had no problem remembering where I left off. Hell my VHS tapes had resume play baked right in. Apparently there is some flaw in BD-J, the java based software controls BluRay uses, that prevent resume play from working. Sony’s work around was a bookmark feature that would only be useful if it was automatic. Shutting down the player because it’s been paused for 15 minutes? Lets bookmark that spot for you. Loading a movie up and it has a shutdown labeled bookmark? Lets resume that for you. Problem solved. Morons.

But I digress. The point is people are not switching their DVD collection to BluRay in droves (if at all) and for good reason. Higher picture quality aside there is no impetus to do so. People get why a big TV looks better, but unless you play them side-by-side I think most people have trouble telling the difference between a DVD and a BluRay movie. Especially if you are up-scaling the DVD. The DVD era was a boon for the entertainment industry because people liked DVD’s far more than VHS Tapes and were willing to replace their old movies with the better format. Unfortunately for Sony no amount of advertising is going to convince people that they need to do the same thing with BluRay.

What’s holding back digital media

Most people don’t want to watch movies on their computer so getting your movies from the computer to the TV is really the main stumbling block for downloaded movies. Sure you could hook your computer up to your TV (my current setup) but it’s cumbersome and certainly not something your parents are going to do. You can also buy a set top box like an AppleTV (I love the new one) or a Boxee and stream content from your computer but this is also cumbersome and I doubt your parents are even going to know about that obscure feature.

Next comes the issue of storage. If you download say 10 HD movies at a conservative 10GB each you now have to find a place to store 100GB of media. You don’t want to have a hard drive die on you and wipe out your collection so you have to either back them up or setup a RAID configuration. Once again we have left your parent’s living room.

Finally I think it’s important that we not discount the brick & mortar. People like to hold things in their hand and they love the impulse buy. Whether you are waiting in line at Best Buy or killing time at Costco it’s always fun to flip through the movies they have2. In a way the limited selection is better than the infinite selection of the internet because fewer choices make for an easier decision. Beyond an iTunes gift card there is absolutely nothing that allows a consumer to purchase downloadable media in a store.

The iCloud Solution

As it stands Apple’s new iCloud solves most of the problems listed above. Assuming an update to AppleTV is forthcoming you will be able to buy a movie anywhere and watch it on any device right out of the box. No home sharing to configure, no syncing, no storage issues. Buy a movie from your work computer, go home and watch half of it on your AppleTV and finish the rest of it on your iPad during your lunch break the next day. It will also offer a slew of improvements over the current Disc formats. The simple fact that there is no physical media means that :

  • No way to lose or damage media since you can re-download it
  • You can browse your entire library and start watching without leaving the couch
  • You can access your library from anywhere, including a friend’s house
  • Easier to add parental controls

Now imagine what happens when the power of iOS developers is unleashed upon the AppleTV and your imagination becomes the limit to what can be done. Games that use your media collection, looking up details and discussion about a certain scene. Those are the kind of trite apps that will be available on day one so I can only imagine what this is going to be like a year later.

The brick and mortar problem does not have such a readily available solution but I predict one will follow in the wake of iCloud’s success. Whether it’s just a card with a code or something you scan with your phone I’m confident we will be able to buy iTunes movies at Best Buy within 5 years.

  1. I remember watching the first Transformers movie on a TV at Fry’s and actually being able to see how fake the props looked; the guns actually looked like toys. The CG reminded me of early CG attempts where it was quite obvious where reality ended and the computer began. I was informed by a “helpful” sales associate that this could be “fixed” by putting your player in a different mode. He wouldn’t admit it but I suspect some sort of down sampling is involved []
  2. Of course this did not hold true for music but I suspect the fact that movies contain a visual aspect will maintain the “hands on” appeal. I always found looking at a CD a terrible way to decide whether to buy it. A DVD is a different story though []

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