Around this time last year, after months of self-bickering on how to drive my PC upgrades forward, I decided to buy a blu-ray writer disc drive. This was a big leap that emptied my wallet for quite a while. It was priced around 250$ then. Nowadays you can get similar drives for almost half the price, and I might say that it’s a rather good deal. Unfortunately, the format in itself still seems to be so unpopular. And even I myself deem it unpopular in my own usage, as I own only a handful of blu-ray movies because of certain unattainable price points. Yet with these conflicts, I still wanted to defend the format as a way to move technology forward, or at least to make me less sad about something that still has a chance to become a “useless purchase” for me.
What are we at right now anyway? We’re just rising from recession just now, so I think more and more people are going to buy TV sets. LCD and Plasma sales are on the rise. We recently bought a modest LCD TV ourselves, and now I realize why regular consumers aren’t buying blu-ray. The basic answer is that DVD quality is enough for them, sure. Another reason which is sometimes unmentioned is how people will watch quite a distance away from the TV. Coupled with the fact that consumers will want a cheap set, so I think an extreme majority own the small 32″ screens. At those distance and sizes, even I don’t see the pixels. DVD is really enough after all. Screw me who always watches video on the computer only a couple feet away from my LCD monitor. A TV isn’t meant to be viewed this close. And so for our set, I conviced my parents to move the TV around for it to become closer to the sofa to better appreciate the visual quality.
The first blu-ray movie I bought would be the BBC Planet Earth documentaries. I would highly recommend this series as a prime gateway to the beauty of blu-ray. After that though, I really hadn’t bought much else. Just a couple samplers and some blockbuster movies (Iron Man for instance). I have a grand total of 10 titles… for an entire year of having the format. My main enemy would be both price and region inferiority. I think by now in the US blu-ray movie prices have dropped near DVD levels, which is quite nice. Unfortunately I’m NOT in the US, so I have to make do with those prices + 12% tax + markup. A 20$ movie there will become 36$ here, which is freaking ridiculous. Prices in Japan are as horrible as ever too, some in the 80$ range even. I can import some because I know people in Japan but still I can’t just blast my money just for some odd anime or two.
I think anime is the best showcase for blu-ray because you will noticeably see the difference. Lines are thinner in character designs and the colors become richer because you see more detail in the backgrounds. Japan knows this as most of their top-selling blu-ray movies are anime. Unfortunately, blu-ray anime in the US is almost endangered. With all the problems they have in selling anime DVDs, I don’t think some localization studios will even move to the format. Such a shame, because part of me holding up to buying anime DVDs all-in-all would be because there is a slight chance that they would move to blu-ray someday.
Another problem in the horizon for blu-ray will be digital distribution. While today there doesn’t seem to be any threat because of the competing formats and small libraries, we go back to the quality case. If DVD is enough, won’t HD be enough even at low bitrates? Right now people enjoy their youtube at supposed HD format, which is no more than a 720p video with a low bitrate which degrades quality. Still, enough to whet their appetites. The second one would be piracy but I don’t think this is as strong today. It’s such hassle to download and move around a 4 or 8GB file, even if you say broadband is fast and hard drives are cheap. Also, to enjoy those on your big TV you still need an HTPC or media streamer of sorts, so the piracy audience are more of the techie types rather than the bulk of consumers who just want to plug-and-play.
The only savior of the format that I can think of is the Playstation 3. While still the sore loser in terms of video game sales, that box freaking does everything, including blu-ray. If it were not for this console, blu-ray may as well be dead two years ago. With the recent introduction of the PS3 Slim with its competitive price, I even think this is a second coming for the format. I don’t have a use for a PS3 since I have my computer for high-quality gaming, but it really fits the bill for an all around entertainment device.
This holiday season will be a crucial one for the format. Personally as well, because I will go stock up on blank blu-ray discs for recording and backups. I just hope that locally the price comes down for the movies so that I can buy more. It’s a really interesting battle in the video space nowadays, and I hope blu-ray gets a piece of that pie. At least, to justify my purchase of this blu-ray drive. Heh.