After Hours

Will iTunes & Netflix make Blu-ray's "victory" meaningless?

Two of the biggest stories leading up to CES were the announcement by Warner Bros. to go Blu-ray exclusive and the announcement of integration of Netflix's streaming service into consumer electronics hardware. Personally, I wasn't at all happy about the first one (considering I have two HD-DVD players at home), but I was thrilled about the second. I'm tired of buying physical discs *and* I'm really sick of worrying about whether I bought the "winning" format. Digital delivery has always been the dream; however, everyone has said it would be years before streaming and digital on-demand services would hit the mainstream.

Since CES, there have been two more announcements that make me question whether Blu-ray's declared victory will actually matter. First, Netflix announced that they are allowing their customers to get unlimited video streaming (prior to the announcement, your streaming was limited by the service plan to which you subscribed). And, just yesterday, Apple, who has convinced consumers to purchase 4 billion (with a "B") songs at $1 each, announced that they are going to be offering movie rentals, including HD movies, through iTunes that can be accessed on your television via the $229 AppleTV. Oh, and they have support of every major movie studio already.

So we've got two of the leaders in renting and selling digital content making big moves into delivering disc-less movie content in both standard and high-definition versions. Plus, Apple is also providing an affordable hardware solution (did I just say "Apple" and "affordable" in the same sentence) to get the content onto your television.

Given the price of Blu-ray hardware and the confusion that will still linger with consumers about why they need more expensive HD discs that don't look dramatically better (it's definitely not the same "wow factor" of comparing SDTV to HDTV) than an upconverted DVD, I don't know that Sony can really feel good about buying studio support for its Blu-ray format.

To play totally-biased devil's advocate for a second, would things be different had HD-DVD been able to convince or buy studio support for its format? I think it *could* have been.

HD-DVD, which is the only next-gen format to comply with the DVD Forum specification, required all HD-DVD players to support an ethernet connection. This was mainly to support the interactive, web-enabled bonus features that many HD-DVD titles, like the Bourne Ultimatum, included. However, it could have also been used to support the integration of Netflix's or iTunes, too. This would have given consumers a choice about using physical HD-DVD discs for the movies they want to own while still having the flexibility of an all-you-can-eat (in the case of Netflix) rental service for the movies they want to watch once. Plus, with the lower price of HD-DVD hardware, it could have been done much more affordably.

Of course, we'll never know now that Sony has shelled out $120 million to Fox and $400 million to Warner Bros. to abandon HD-DVD (while claiming that consumers had already chosen Blu-ray as the clear winner).

I, personally, have decided to not go Blu-ray and wait for digital delivery to take off. The upconversion of DVDs on my Toshiba HD-DVD player looks great :) I wonder how many other people, who see nothing wrong with a regular ol' DVD, will do the same.

So has Sony done it again? Have they backed another doomed format? Will you go Blu-ray or just wait for streaming or VOD to take off?

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