Blu-ray Disc: What The Hell Are You, Really (Part 1)

As usual, this is my learned opinion. While I strongly believe in both my viewpoint and in my knowledge that I have accumulated to reach this viewpoint, I do expect others to feel differently and to challenge and enlighten me. I cannot be right unless I can face the possibility of being wrong.

As a lifelong home video maven and almost as long a member of the home video business, I am one who loves the advances that come along in physical video media. Now you are branding me as a “stick in the mud” old head, because I did not use the words “digital” or “downloads” or “VOD” or “watching a big screen film on your fricking phone”.

And maybe I am, but I believe in the thought that you can only own, hold, library, and treasure something that you truly can actually hold. I’ll get into that later, but for now, let’s look at what was to be the next big thing in physical video media.

Blu-ray disc.

Raise your hands, all of you who have had this more than one year.

Now, those of you who specifically bought a Blu-ray player for the Blu-ray

Now, those of you who know what Blu-ray really is.

Now, those of you who know what 720p, 1080i, and 1080p are.

Now, those of you who actually know which of these numbers your HDTV is.

Now, those of you who wonder what is now wrong with DVD that you need to step up.

Those are just a few of the questions that I ask because I believe that the people behind Blu-ray have pretty much screwed up the process.

Now, it isn’t their entire fault. Sony, Warner, and the champions of Blu-ray, spent the first couple of years fighting a battle with other studios who championed a different hi-def disc, HD-DVD.  In other words, instead of spending the launch shouting about how this was the next big improvement on DVD and home entertainment, they spent it telling people they were better than another rival that the consumer needed to be educated about.

So, this set back the ability to please anybody but the early adopters, who took sides and claimed to be the ones who mattered to the success of the format. This was an asinine concept, since any product that wants to be the next big thing needs to interest those who may not be initially interested, not just the early adopters.

Ok, so HD-DVD drops out, and Blu-ray has the field all to themselves. Now, what to do.

I still do not think that they know.

By the time Blu-ray finally “won”, the industry was facing the sea change that is online. Because Blu-ray spent so much time fending off competition, they forgot the general consumer.

A couple of years ago, I talked with one of the Sony execs about programs to better educate the mass market about Blu-ray. My theory rested on the concept that good independent video stores were built on the concept of customer service. They prided themselves on knowing the customer, remembering their likes and needs, and talking with them to help make choices. My stores always loved the conversation as much as the money going into the till. That conversation improved both the customers’ night of entertainment and our ability to serve them in the future.

One concept explored was a reasonable kiosk set up that would promote Blu-ray in an easy to understand way. Well, I guess the concept was good, because after a few conversations, the studio rolled them out to Blockbuster. Well!

Of course, to Blockbuster, they were just another merchandising floor plan, one more space to compete against what theater sized candy earned per square foot.

At the same time, along came the rise of Netflix and Redbox. (I still for the life of me abhor the thought of films being vended like gumballs). Netflix was the smart one, promoting itself as convenience, even though you had to wait a day or two for the DVD.

More on Netflix later.

The other great change was the studios desire to get into streaming and downloading, while the cable giants try to expand their VOD and other offerings. What was basically happening is that the market, which Blu-ray at first hoped would be sales oriented, and then reluctantly gave way to rental thoughts, was no longer the new kid on the block. Now, newer techs, some of them more like rental than sale, were the talk of the town.

Blu-ray has tried some good ideas  that may be too little too late. The best was the Combo Blu-ray/DVD pack, which allowed the consumer to get both formats for one price. Those who had Blu-ray love it, especially for family films, since they may not have Blu-ray on all the TV’s or computers.

However, is it enough to cause a customer to think forward and say to themselves “Gee, someday I may own a Blu-ray player or computer”. In addition, did the combo pack actually do anything to educate and change consumer viewpoints.

Blu-ray is taking a larger share of the DVD pie, but is that because the DVD pie has hit its ceiling?

I have more on this, but this post is long enough, and as I have said, I really want to hear from others, because I can always learn and reevaluate. All I ask is that your comments focus on Blu-ray for now, and wait for me to get to other home video topics to tear me a new digital asshole.

BTW, did you know that if you have an HDTV, if it is 720p, it will upconvert standard DVD nicely, but that it can only upconvert to a max of 1080i, and Blu-ray uses 1080p for full effect?

3 comments on “Blu-ray Disc: What The Hell Are You, Really (Part 1)

  1. There will be follow-ups to this. When I started this topic, I failed to realize how this one item, Blu-ray Disc, has reach into dozens of other areas, so I chose to break it up, and also to allow your huzzahs or your brickbats, your choice, before continuing on.

    A word of warning. Your argument better be good, because I will give you the utmost respect, but I won’t back down from what I know and believe in.

  2. Nice breakdown, Adrian. I’m not nearly as well-versed on this subject as you, I consider you to be an authority with your experience…it just seems to me that the people that were pushing the Blu-ray technology kind of missed their window of opportunity, much like the BETA folks of the mid to late 80s.

    Another factor in the slow migration towards this technology has to be the cost associated. Combined with the fact that replacing a DVD player that works just fine, there are many, many people right now that are out of work. And there are just as many people that are employed that have had to take lower-paying jobs just to have an income at all. The thought of upgrading their home entertainment systems may not be the biggest priority and falls lower on the impact scale than it would at a more affluent time.

  3. You sum it up nicely. The cost of a full upgrade, when many DVD players upconvert the standard DVD picture to look nice, means customers ask “Why”?.

    In addition, the higher price of the discs combined with the unfullfilled promise of having entire TV seasons on one disc is also not good.

    Finally, to have to have a full 1080p capable TV, which is more expensive that a regular HDTV, is a roadblock. Don’t even think about the expense of 7.1 Channel sound.

    And even more, since none of this is really made clear, the Blu-ray player requires software updates over the internet to play newer DVD’s, and DVD-50, the highest form right now, will cause problem with older players. The load time for the feature can by two minutes or more.

    BETA is a good comparison, but not perfect, simply because the whole novelty of owning a Hollywood film was so unique, and the only competition were the networks and cable that was not advanced like today, and VHS.

    You see broadcast people. Ask the veterans and they will tell you that BETA is superior to VHS, but VHS competed bt price point, and BETA stood fast of reputation. That is what kills me when people only shop the lowest price, not even looking into what a bit og a higher price might as to the sale.

    Blu-ray is now one of many options, as witnessed by the new additions to AppleTV (which I do not like) and the sure to come response from AMAZON.

    The market is now all about a winner take all, total incompatibility with the rest of the offerings. One on needs to look at all the E-Book readers, each one with material that is thethered directly to that brand only.

    Total confusion, and Blu-ray ignores that real feel component, the knowledgable video retailer (and I know plenty, including me) who could sell the customer on the concept because thay actually know the customer by face, not by algorithms.

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