Will Blu-ray die at Christmas 2008?
The worldwide recession is getting worse, wasting economies and laying off employees that will find themselves with no salary hence without money to spend in home entertainment. In such a scenario what was a balance leaning between hope and pessimism turns in a sword of Damocles dangerously close to deadly hit Sony’s Blu-ray, that maybe will get through this Christmas but could not be able to see the dawn of the next one.
If the high-definition optical format hasn’t been able to take the market in less difficult economic conditions, in fact, it’s easy to foresee that things can only get worse while the crisis strengthens. The mild consumers interest is now merging with the lesser money circulation, and those luxury goods of which Blu-ray is the most distinguished representative should be just the ones to pay more for it.
Not only Blu-ray is unnecessary, offering no a single essential reason to drive users to dismiss the oldie but goldie DVD format, but after several years it is still affected by a non trivial amount of technical issues and assorted incompatibilities. So it is the recent case of the Iron Man BD-ROM release, advertised as a “state of the art” title able to fully exploit the on-line features of the last hi-def format specifications (“Profile 2.0” also known as BD-Live).
Some angry users have been obliged to wait for up to an hour before being able to watch the movie, a timeframe in which the software tried to download the interactive contents from the servers assaulted by an unexpected number of simultaneous hits. The case of the last 007 saga home video release is even worse, because according to buyers feedback the disk would refuse to run even on players compatible with the BD-Live profile, requiring a device firmware update that in some cases would be pretty hard to accomplish.
Consumers are vexed while the tech corporations engaged in the contents market continue to not to be persuaded about the need to adopt the Sony format. Putting an end to the nth buzz on the likelihood of releasing a Blu-ray player for the Xbox 360 home console, Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg has said in no uncertain terms that, considering the titles availability and the Blu-ray sales up to now, “it’s pretty clear it’s not the next DVD“. “The future is digital” Greenberg says, and it’s for this reason that Microsoft prefers to invest on a robust contents library to be sold through the Xbox 360 Marketplace rather than on an add-on player that would only strengthen the competitors’ market position.
The future is digital, echoes Apple’s Steve Jobs which while launching the new MacBook laptops with no Blu-ray drive has moaned about the complexity of the license system and has said that he prefers to wait “until Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace” before letting the mac-users pay for the players cost. Honestly speaking, it’s pretty alienating worse still laughable hearing someone so familiar with the majors like Jobs to say that after more than three years we must still wait that Blu-ray “take off”. However Apple can afford to take all the time that’s needed, considering that its on-line store goes beautifully and the analysts estimations talk about a more than good growth for digital hi-def contents demand within the next years.
The HDTV sets amount sold or marketed in the United States is growing, but it seems that the typical setup doesn’t necessarily include an expensive Blu-ray player. The DVD titles upscaling can still do the trick with an high-definition television (be it “Ready”, “Full” or whatever), maybe using one of those HD DVD players still available on sale at a slashed price and that, pretty unbelievably for a so fickle and unreliable market like the standard and incompatibility hell born from the convergence between computing and multimedia, are still updated by Toshiba with the release of new firmware versions able to improve playback for the digital format that handed over the market to Blu-ray and the majors lobby leaded by Sony.
Reasoning with hindsight, one can quietly claim that HD DVD didn’t deserve to lose: BD+, the additional protection layer to the AACS DRM standard that according to the studios and Sony would have remained unbeaten by the hackers for 10 years has been defeated for the second time. First came SlySoft with its commercial software AnyDVD HD, now the debacle is absolute thanks to the data crunching work of the Doom9 forum users, which on the last October 28 proudly announced “the first successful restoration of the BD+ protected movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ in Linux“. How the Twentieth Century Fox management will feel now, considering that according to their fallacious opinion BD+ would have represented a winning solution against “piracy” and a protection bonus that the competing standard HD DVD wasn’t able to provide?
An economy in recession, unsatisfied or uninterested consumers and supposedly unbeatable DRM schemes melting like snow in the sun, Blu-ray’s situation couldn’t be more worrisome. Sony and its supporter knows that, and in the (desperate?) attempt to turn direction during the next Christmas holidays they have cut for several times the BD-ROM players price within the months of October and November. An entry level stand-alone drive costs now less than 200 dollars in the United States… Hoping obviously that it wouldn’t refuse to play the newer titles as happened with the already quoted Iron Man and James Bond releases.
Among so many bad news for Blu-ray it’s worth citing the positive data coming from Japan, where in the 12 months ending with September 2008 the Sony format has taken 31% of all marketed optical players/recorders. There’s someone stating that the HDTV sets owners prefer far more Blu-ray than the digital contents download, and the outgoing 25 millions of dollars advertising campaign to promote the format could further reinforce this liking. Will it be enough to let the less innovative standard of the last years survive beyond Christmas 2008?