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I came across an article the other day mentioned that Blu-Ray discs were launched this month ten years ago, and it took me by surprise. While, yes Blu-Rays came out in June 2006, it still feels like the new kid on the block. I suppose some of my surprise comes from the fact that I didn’t upgrade to Blu-Ray until 2013 after such time where I could afford to upgrade (completing grad work with a string of part-time jobs makes you financially cautious).
In any event, those ten years went by fast. Where did the time go? Let’s take a look back.
I remember back during my undergrad (circa. 2003) and the early talk of the thing to replace DVD was beginning. I was following the news on this new format pretty closely back then and that there were going to be two competing formats, Blu-Ray and its Microsoft breather HD-DVD. I was surprised by this considering how a variety of companies forced the makers of DVD to combine and create one format to avoid another format war in the manner of Betamax vs. VHS. It perplexed me that the same tactic wasn’t being employed again (allegedly there were attempts to avoid a format war, but it didn’t come to any desired result). It also surprised be because around that time, DVD just became mainstream and universally accepted – why rush a new format on a population that probably isn’t ready for it?
Then again, that’s not how technology works and we were getting high-definition entertainment.
Blu-Ray and HD-DVD were released to the public within months of each other in 2006. And both launches were terrific blunders. Despite of the quality of each format being roughly the same, players were astronomically high priced and none of the released titles really took advantage of the technical improvements the high-def formats promoted. Eventually, things got better, but it is universally agreed that the formats were rushed to stores and suffered for it.
Shortly after the high def formats came out, I was talking to some of my students (I was a high school teacher at the time) about it. One of them claimed that he felt the picture looked a little too good. I can get behind that. I remember watching a little bit of one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies at a Circuit City (remember those, kids?) around that time and almost thinking that it kind of looked like a really clear home video. That’s how clear the technology looked for me.
Studios started to pick sides of which format to support. This, of course, was going to be the beginning of the end of the war. By 2008, Blu-Ray won the format war due to a variety of reasons. Having Blu-Ray as a built-in component for the then-new Playstation 3 (which had its own blunder-filled launch) was definitely a plus. HD-DVD tried to get with the X-Box 360, but it was an add-in since the game system was launched a good 3 months before HD-DVD.
The game system element was definitely a big win for Blu-Ray, but HD-DVD’s killing blow was when Warner Bros. (the biggest home video distributor at the time) decided to exclusively side with Blu-Ray in early 2008. Soon after, Wal-Mart dropped its support for the format. By February 2008, HD-DVD was done for.
On a personal note, I think that consumers were attracted to Blu-Ray because it sounds better than HD-DVD. HD-DVD just sounds too technical and not dissimilar enough from its predecessor DVD. But that’s just my own theory. I have nothing to back it up with.
Despite the format war (or possibly because of it), consumers were not jumping on the Blu-Ray bandwagon. Its adoption by the public was slow. DVD still continued to dominate sales. Consumers didn’t quite understand the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray and those who did, didn’t see it as that much of an improvement (especially when compared to VHS and DVD).
The economic crisis of 2008 didn’t help as overall video sales were down. With the higher price of Blu-Ray, if the average consumer were to buy, they would pick lower-costing DVD. Not helping matters is that studios are still actively releasing DVDs alongside Blu-Rays instead of phasing them out.
Anecdotally, I have noticed this anytime I go into the video section of a Wal-Mart. They have a ton of DVDs, but relatively few Blu-Rays. And the ones they do, are mostly contained to newer releases (with its DVD brother next to it). I suppose studios know that DVDs still sell, and cannot afford to get rid of them yet. I do notice that DVDs tend to be very bare-bones, leaving the special features solely on the Blu-Ray. But, I question, do people care about the special features as much as they once did when special features were a new thing? I would argue that most don’t.
Another factor affecting Blu-Ray are streaming services. Things like Netflix and Hulu have really taken off. Why would someone buy a Blu-Ray for $20 when they can spend $8 a month and have access to 100 times more content? True, it may not look as crisp as physical media, but if it is good enough, why not? Fortunately for physical media, streaming’s quality hasn’t quite gotten to the point where physical media will disappear. But in time, it will and people will stop buying stuff.
I suppose the slow adoption rate is what still makes me think that Blu-Ray is relatively new. But it isn’t. And a new format is already being released to the public: Ultra HD (also known as 4K Blu-Ray). Why this is being thrown on consumers when Blu-Ray hasn’t quite caught on, I do not know. Then again, it seems that Ultra HD hasn’t gotten the same kind of push that Blu-Ray did, so there’s that. Perhaps this is just how things work. DVD had a shelf-life of 10 years before Blu-Ray came and now Blu-Ray has the same thing. I can’t see Ultra HD catching on with consumers anytime soon, but who knows?
Back on point. Blu-Ray is a decade old! What are some of your favorite titles released on the format? If I may, I would recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the movie isn’t for everyone, it looks absolutely gorgeous! If you need an example of what the format can do, look no further!