What's going wrong with Blu-ray?
Why hasn’t Blu-ray won quite the level of support and business that was originally anticipated? Simon has a few thoughts on the matter…
I’ve had a couple of off-the-record conversations with people in disc distribution over the past month or two, and they seem to be in some kind of agreement: Blu-ray hasn’t taken off in quite the way that people had hoped. Perhaps that's why some films in the UK, Disney's Winnie The Pooh for instance, don't get a Blu-ray release at all.
In America, Blu-ray is faring well, but you only have to look at the quantity of new weekly releases in the UK against the same number for DVDs five or six years after that format launched, and the picture is fairly clear.
I like Blu-rays. I prefer having a physical disc format, and, appreciating that the download revolution is fully upon us, I still think that a strong packaged film, with interesting extras, is the best choice for home entertainment. But I can’t help but feel that Blu-ray has suffered as a result of some odd decisions that nobody seems in much of a hurry to fix.
Such as these…
It takes too long to get to the film
The big bugbear. The really big bugbear.
If you put a disc in a player, you want to be watching a film in under a minute. But more often than not, you can’t with Blu-ray. I’ve got a fairly modern player, that’s only a year old, but there’s a good 20 seconds of loading the disc. Then there are the forced company logos. Then there’s the need to watch a menu that’s more interested in winning design awards than presenting you with options. Then there might be an FBI warning (we get those on British discs, too). Then there might be some piracy message. Then some other logo plays out. Then you get to the movie.
Every. Bloody. Time.
It feels like the bit where you get to the movie is the inconvenience that gets in the way of people selling you something. The priority also seems to be the player itself computing some no-doubt intricate anti-piracy algorithm.
I have not-fond memories of a VHS copy of RoboCop I bought in the very early 90s, with half an hour of adverts on it that I though was irritating in the extreme. Now? I tap the skip button on my remote so often before watching a film that it’s like I’m playing Track & Field.
It’s too restrictive
The beauty of a DVD is that you can play it on pretty much anything. You can download an entirely legal, free program for your computer and play it (no matter what kind of machine or operating system), you can run it on most things that hold a disc of its ilk, and it feels like a universal film format.
Blu-ray doesn’t. If you want to play a Blu-ray on a PC, then you need to buy a piece of software to do it.
You end up with something like PowerDVD, which in itself is part of the problem, as after forking out a fair bit of cash for it, it seems to think it’s a social networking service rather than a tool for playing back discs. Rate my movie? Leave a comment? I only want to watch a bloody film. It only gets to that in the moments when it’s not insisting you download yet another update. Spotting a theme here yet?
For Blu-ray to enjoy more universal support, then the codec needs to be relaxed. It needs to be available in freely (and legally) downloadable software.
Look at Amazon with its Kindle books. It’ll let you download a tool so that you can read Kindle-format titles on pretty much anything, and won’t charge you. It realises tha the gold is in the books themselves, not the hardware you load them up on.
To play back a Blu-ray? The choice of devices is simply too small, and there’s little that appears to be being done about that.
Why, why, why? Why is the world of Blu-ray still blighted with a technology that only impacts legal, paying customers?
I understand fully the basics behind regional coding, in that it geographically locks out people in one part of the world from being able to play back certain discs from another. And I understand that just because one company owns the rights to a film in America, it doesn’t mean they do in Britain.
But seriously: do you all want our money or not? We’re in a world where everybody knows less scrupulous options are easily available, and it baffles me that barriers are still put in the way for those of us who want to lay down our cash and buy a legal disc.
Blu-ray discs are, generally, sold at a premium price to their DVD counterparts. Many are perfectly happy with the picture and audio quality of a DVD, so for them to be persuaded to fork out for a high definition upgrade, there has to be an incentive to do so. A sloppy picture transfer or poor sound work is not that incentive.
Furthermore, the extras package remains a compelling part of a premium-priced disc upgrade (and I say this thinking that Blu-rays, generally, offer good value), and yet often, the supplements are sloppily ported across from the DVD.
Granted, nothing may have changed of note since the extras were made, but why not at least put a bit of effort into their presentation? It’s not a deal breaker, but it’d make me think you cared a bit about the end product.
Firmware Updates? WTF?
When the mass market buys a piece of consumer electronics, they are not going to be impressed when said purchase then talks about a firmware update. Most people don’t know what a firmware update is, and nor should they need to know.
What's more, it might be my suspicion, but I suspect many firmware updates are more to do with adding further security measures, rather than improving anything about the act of me sitting down watching a film. After all, a Blu-ray player can play a disc from day one. How many updates do you need to improve on that basic funcationality?
None of this appears to be getting fixed
Most, if not all, of the complaints I've outlined above have been circling Blu-ray for a few years now. There's been progress on the laziness side, granted, with some terrific catalogue releases of late.
Yet perhaps most damingingly of all, there's seems little desire to resolve many of the other issues, nor has there ever been.
Throw in on top of these the fact that Blu-ray may have been the right format, but a little too late (not helped by a delaying battle with the rival HD DVD format), and its hopes of ever displacing DVD seem non-existent.
I hope that studios continue to support it, and not just for big releases. But I fear that, unless some fundamental problems are addressed, I can't help but think that the Blu-ray format - whilst still successful to a point - will always be punching some way below its potential.
With thanks to @scotteweinberg