With Toshiba’s announcement that they are discontinuing all support for HD-DVD (read the press release at http://www.hd-dvd.com), the Blu-Ray Disc Association is now in position to claim a monopoly over the portable high-definition media market.
The format war was over two years long and very bitter. Throughout it all, consumers stood by and watched, not spending their money aside from the early-adopters. Both formats had a proprietary console (Microsoft’s X-Box 360 vs. Sony’s PlayStation 3) as well as numerous development headaches (for example, the early Blu-Ray players would not play some movies, and the early HD-DVD players were agonizingly slow to load).
In terms of picture and sound quality, Blu-Ray stands alone. There is nothing better commercially available on the market at this time. Further, with the release of BD-J, it allows the movie studios to integrate an interactive platform into the Blu-Ray disc. In the coming months it will be with great interest that we watch how the Blu-Ray Disc Association exploits these enhancements.
Despite all the recent positive news for Blu-Ray, however, another confrontation is quickly looming on the horizon. The advent of digital downloading is poised to challenge Blu-Ray as the next portable medium. Portable devices such as Apple’s I-Pod, Sony’s PSP (PlayStation Portable), and Microsoft’s Zune player are gobbling up an ever-increasing share of the market. Content providers such as musicians and major studios are making their content available for download on the Internet at reasonable prices.
Currently, the quality of digital downloading is limited to the same quality as DVD. In addition, the sound is only two-channel, not 5.1 surround sound. This is due primarily to bandwidth limitations; when people purchase a movie, television show, or music online they want to generally be able to watch or listen to it right away. To do this, the file must be kept as small as possible while retaining the image quality. For Blu-Ray quality material to be offered for direct digital download, the bandwidth available to the end-user must increase threefold to be able to receive the file in the same amount of time (as an aside, many Internet Service Providers also have bandwidth caps, which would also limit downloading as it would become prohibitively expensive once you exceed the cap).
The advantage over Blu-Ray is convenience. You will be able to sit on your couch, choose a movie, and begin to watch it immediately. To purchase a Blu-Ray disc you will have to go to the store, or buy online and wait for your item to show up. Furthermore, you do are not required to own a Blu-Ray player if you are downloading your media online.
The Blu-Ray Disc Association can counter this phenomenon by making the players more affordable to the average consumer. The current market price for a Blu-Ray disc player is approximately $350.00. Movies typically are priced at $30.00 each. At these prices, it is still quite costly for the average individual to make the jump from DVD to Blu-Ray. Digital Media downloads range from $0.99 cents to $10.00 and no special player is required.
In the end, having a choice is always good for the consumer. Competition in the marketplace for your dollars and cents will drive the prices down while increasing both selection and quality.