The future of Blu-Ray

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 9, 2008 09:05pm | Post a Comment

This town needs an enema
The Dark Knight was released today (December 9th) on DVD and Blu-Ray. It will, no doubt, be yet another enormously popular title on DVD -- but for Blu-Ray, it's being viewed by some as a make-it-or-break-it title. You may've noticed Blu-Ray commercials are beginning to sparingly pop up on TV. This is part of a curiously cautious, last ditch effort to boost the troubled format's fortunes. Last Christmas, sluggish sales of HD DVD resulted in that format's extinction the following spring. Some thought that Blu-Ray, as the victor of the so-called format war, would benefit from a sales boost from cautious buyers who'd been waiting to see what format triumphed. But instead Blu-Ray player sales dropped 40% in the first month of the year, then plateaued before dropping to less than half their peak sales not long after. Like LaserDiscs before them, Blu-Rays offer superior quality at a higher price but appeal only to a niche market. It remains to be seen if this market can grow sufficiently to keep Blu-Rays viable.

Monet's Japanese Bridge Japanese Bridge at Giverny photo

What’s the problem, officer?
While hordes of consumers have turned to low cost, low quality mp3s over CDs, the idea that those same people would shell out more money for a higher quaity optical format was never a likely scenario. I personally don’t like the way everything looks in HD. I caught a bit of Bachelor Party in HD and it looked like one of those cheap, BBC costume dramas from the '70s, All of the shoddiness was exposed in a harsh, unflattering light that I found disconcerting and distracting. I also like Conan O'Brien more when I can't see the edge of his foundation. Is clearer picture always a good thing? Would you pay three times as much for a Renoir or Cézanne if it was photorealistic? Have you ever felt that the main issue with a bad movie was that the resolution wasn't high enough? So many supposed innovations are actually vastly inferior to what they're supposed to improve. If it sounds like I'm talking about more than detachable collars, it's because I am.

Another problem with Blu-Ray is the selection. The selection is primarily limited to whatever new Hollywood films are coming out and titles that, on DVD, gather dust in the world’s bargain bins. Who is the person out there that’s going to buy S.W.A.T. or Dinosaur in 2008? I feel like people are over merely building their libraries at this point. About the only classic titles released on Blu-Ray, thus far, are the early Bond films… which are on five different channels at any point of every day, sometimes in HD.
Yet another of Blu-Ray’s problems is that a lot of people still haven’t even heard of it. Whereas those who ask what a DVD is and if it will play “in the regular machine” (i.e. VCR) were all pretty much born before the Great Depression, many people, of all backgrounds, regularly express complete, disinterested ignorance about Blu-Rays. With commercials advertising Blu-Ray's supposed advantages just beginning to air, it seems like a typically dunderheaded Sony move, to waiting till they’re at death's door to give their product a push.

There are a lot of discussions and mischaracterizations of the Blu-Ray market that don’t hold up against the facts, which certainly isn't helping. It’s often claimed that Blu-Ray players and discs are just too high priced. In fact, two years into their existence, Blu-Ray players are only about $200. On the other hand, two years into their existence, DVD players cost $300 and the discs were about the same price as Blu-Rays are today. At Amoeba, we sell Hannah Montana and Alvin & the Chipmunks for $12.99. We’ve got Dan in Real Life, Ultraviolet, The Great Raid, King Arthur, Premonition, The Santa Clause 3 for only $9.99. Clearly, price isn't the only obstacle these films face. For films to be released on Blu-Ray, there are fees of around $40,000 which is why you're unlikely to see indie, foreign, music, documentaries, silents, animes or classic films any time soon.

The real difference isn’t cost, it’s that Blu-Rays hardly present the monumental improvement over DVDs that DVDs did over VHS. A better analogy is to DVD-audio and Super Audio CDs, which failed to dislodge CDs as the format of choice. And those aforementioned titles aren’t exactly the kind of fare that would warrant the Hi-Def treatment (nor repeated viewings) in the first place. Nor are they the sort of titles that appeal to the Blu-Ray market. Blu-ray discs peaked at 7.5% of the disc market in March, following HD DVD death. Then they dropped down to 4%. Since then, the NPD won't release sales figures of Blu-ray standalone players because they’re so low that it might convince people not to purchase players, fearing they’ll stop producing discs for them next spring. The figure is believed to hover around a measly 3%, lower even than Bush's approval rating by a large margin.
Blu-Ray Mission Accomplished
While Blu-Rays appear to be struggling to get off the ground, DVDs continue to hold more appeal for both cineastes and the money-minded alike. Amazingly, it's been reported that a lot of people can’t tell the difference between DVDs and Blu-Rays. Because of that, it’s unlikely that most people would be willing to shell out any amount of extra money for benefits they can’t recognize.
Meanwhile, especially in emerging economies, like Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and South America, DVD sales are actually growing. As DVD prices drop and approach those of VCDs, they’re beginning to approach the sales of the third-world-beloved, low cost, low quality optical format. And for film collectors looking to own copies of hard to find titles, there are a lot more interesting titles on the import market than Blu-Ray.
Michael Bay
It’s not all bad…
At 3% of the video market, Blu-Rays are obviously a niche market. Although many articles portray Blu-Ray consumers as “Tech Geeks,” it seems to me that it’s much more a market for conspicuous consumers. Tech Geeks don’t want disc clutter. They have high bandwidths and stream HD, seeing little reason to own media. Even if they did, computer storage space normally falls in cost between 40%-50% a year, making downloads still more attractive. No, the conspicuous consumer, the guy who wants to drop jaws with the size of his TV, who wants to rattle the earth with his audio, seems to be the real market. Whereas LaserDiscs similarly offered pictures a thousand times better than VHS (but for a higher price), that format attempted to appeal to cineastes. Blu-Ray's successes are all big, bright, loud, shiny blockbusters -- usually about superheroes. And those seem to actually be selling pretty briskly (well, except for the unsellable Daredevil). But it's going to take a legion of superheroes to win this fight.
more blu-ray girls
Just compare the Amoeba's post HD DVD top sellers on Blu-Ray and DVD:
Top 20 Blu-Rays

Iron Man
There Will Be Blood
Dark City
Batman Begins
L.A. Confidential
Blade Runner
Nightmare Before Christmas
Mad Men - Season 1
Incredible Hulk
2001 - A Space Odyssey
Batman Begins
Sleeping Beauty
Speed Racer
Clockwork Orange
The Shining

Top 20 DVDs

Mad Men - Season 1
Joy Division
Flight of the Conchords - Season 1
Le Ballon rouge
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
Spaced - The Complete Series
Joe Stummer - The Future Is Unwritten
I Got the Feelin' - James Brown in the '60s
Love - Love Story
Yo Gabba Gabba - Dancey Dance Bunch
Ladies & Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains
Dexter - Season 2
Sigur Ros - Heima
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Weeds - Season 3
City of God
Sex & the City - The Movie

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Vhs (15), Film (146), Movies (55), Vcds (5), Blu-ray (28), Dvds (56), Hd Dvd (3), 2000s (40)