The uncertain fate of Blu-ray between hope and pessimism

In Depth - A merciless lens pointed on the hot topics, passionate and detailed retrospectives, reflections beyond the appearances Blu-ray, the optical format for high definition that won the commercial and technology war against Toshiba HD DVD, continues to be the great question mark of the multimedia market. If the inquiries highlight how consumers aren’t presently interested to the new technology, the disk “in blue” brings controversy also and foremost among the giants of consumer electronics, alternatingly foreseeing for Blu-ray the perspective of a bright future or a short run which soon will take it into oblivion, replaced by more advanced contents delivery channels.

The start for the most recent round of debates about Blu-ray has been given by Andy Griffiths, accountable for Samsung UK division of consumer electronics that in the first days of September has practically defined the format as condemned to diewith 5 years left” before the sentence. “I certainly wouldn’t give it 10“, has continued Griffiths in an interview granted to Pocket-lint website. For the executive Blu-ray is the winner of the format-war, but it won’t enjoy the win for too much time.

2008 will be the year of Blu-ray, has stated Griffiths predicting a boom in the last part of the year, but high definition as a standard feature of all multimedia devices won’t be here until 2012, and at that point the Sony standard will be already on the wane. In 2012 “Everything from your television to your camcorder will be offering you pictures in high-definition, and we plan to offer you that HD world from all angles“. The future will be centered on OLED displays, digital delivery, high definition but not Blu-ray, says the high executive of a company that is the second major retailer of BD players after Sony.

To Griffiths’s statements has replied directly Sony after a couple of weeks, when vice-president Rick Clancy has defined the words of Samsung executive what “couldn’t be further from the truth“. Like many others before him, Clancy quotes the “success” of PlayStation 3 as the main reason for the inevitable spreading of Blu-ray on the market, like PlayStation 2 is traditionally considered to be the true start of the DVD age.

Blu-ray Disc - logo

What is more, continues Clancy, “Hollywood has only scratched the surface as far as Blu-ray movie and television titles are concerned“, Sony HD TV-sets sell like crazy and for the supposed hi-def contents digital delivery revolution, that according to some is the future of multimedia, will be still needed who knows how much years before the availability of connections fitting to the abnormal amount of data to download on the clients.

Such a supposed revolution, capable of sweeping away in a single shot all the physical media in favour of downloads on the PC, console or PVRs, had on the other hand already been “demythologized” by Andy Parsons, senior vice-president for Pioneer (an enthusiastic Blu-ray supporting company) and chairman of Blu-ray Disc Association who has recalledthe old visions of the past that the paperless office would completely obliterate the need for paper“, visions then turned to be “completely wrong“. In the same way who predicts the death of optical disks does nothing but repeat an old estimation error, Parsons has said.

Whatever is the supporters opinion the criticism on Blu-ray continues: in a short yet fitting post the TechRadar UK editor Rob Mead lists the five points that would sign the fate of the format, dead within 2012. The reasons include the above said words from Samsung’s Andy Griffiths, digital downloads, the absurd need to buy a new player (after having invested a non trivial amount of money in one of the first BD players) to enjoy the BD-Live features, the words from Sony on the fact that Blu-ray will be the last optical disk to be marketed and at last the fact that, for the great majority of the potential audience of the format, DVD is and remains enough to watch movies and TV serials even on HD televisions.

Blu-ray - Samsung

The future isn’t for Blu-ray, many state, but for now numbers and figures tell another story. Digital delivery, first of all, surely isn’t ready to replace the traditional disks (BD and DVD together, in this case) being, according to the previsions of Futuresource Consulting, only 3% of sales against 97% of optical disks in 2008. The physical market is worth 14.8 billions of dollars in revenues,
forecasts Futuresource, dwarfing the digital one with its “poor” 500 millions of dollars.

Another esteem, this time by DisplaySearch, says that by the end of this year the sold Blu-ray players will amount to 2.38 millions, triplicating the 700.000 devices marketed in 2007. These are particularly important figures because they don’t include PlayStation 3, and so they should represent that users share effectively interested in the new format. The same survey company states then that BD players will double in 2009 up to reach 5.31 millions.

In short it’s worth to bet on the Blu-ray technology, and Imation is persuaded about that being the first manufacturer to offer the new BD-R e BD-R DL (dual layer) disks able to support a 6x recording speed, that is 216 Megabits per second and 17 minutes to write a 25 Gigabytes layer. Too bad that the price is 14 dollars for BD-R disks and 33 dollars for BD-R DL ones.

It’s worth to bet on Blu-ray and Pioneer is about to show, at the next CEATEC in Japan, a tridimensional technology that will shot in the eyes of the user the glory of 1920×1080 resolution making finally real the promise of a true “3D experience”. Or otherwise repeating the same, cyclic fiasco of the stereoscopic glasses that goes along with consumer electronics since decades.

Blu-ray - Pioneer

Looking at the situation of the world economy, however, the bet of Imation and Pioneer could also be unsuccessful: the estimations of Nielsen VideoScan updated to September 14 state that Blu-ray market share has gone down to 8%, falling from 13% of the previous week and favoring DVD with its 92% of market share. And if this wouldn’t be enough to worry the blue disk supporters, the American recession and its unavoidable effects on the rest of the world certainly do not help a luxury good costly and in no way revolutionary as the Sony hi-def format is. After all the good, old and cheap DVD could still have some years of life to spend before retirement.

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