Blu-ray’s Identity Crisis Page 2
Next, Blu-ray must put a greater emphasis on promoting the product and educating consumers of its benefits. It’s not sufficient to just put the content out there and expect it to sell. Studies have shown that a great number of people believe that DVD is already high-definition quality, with no concept of why Blu-ray is supposed to be better. The prevalence of upconverting DVD players on the market that promise to turn any old standard-definition disc to “near-high-def” quality further confuses matters. Another widely held misconception among the public is the notion that only new, big-budget films are worth buying on Blu-ray, and that regular dramas, comedies, or movies more than five years old don’t benefit from high definition. The studios haven’t done enough to counter these erroneous beliefs. A serious marketing initiative must work to demonstrate the importance of watching every movie and TV show in true high definition, not just eye-candy spectacles and the latest hits.
Pricing is also a critical issue to potential buyers. Most retailers heavily discount new DVDs during the first week of release to drive sales, but similar Blu-ray deals are few and far between. Several studios list catalog titles at the same premium price as new releases, even those with fewer bonus features than the old DVD editions had. When a shopper faces the choice of buying a stripped-down, movie-only copy of Predator on Blu-ray for $40 or the fully loaded Collector’s Edition on DVD currently residing in the store’s bargain bin, how much incentive is there to purchase the Blu-ray?
Hardware manufacturers need to make more of an effort as well, especially if they want to compete with the PlayStation 3. Part of the reason that standalone machines have struggled so much is that the PS3 is still the all-around best Blu-ray player on the market. The console loads discs faster, is significantly less glitchy, has more features, and has more frequent firmware updates than most standalone units, even those from the fourth hardware generation. Plus the PS3 plays video games, and it’s one of the least expensive Blu-ray playback devices available.
In previous issues, we’ve covered the confusion that Blu-ray’s profile strata causes. Nonetheless, numerous brands continue to announce and release Blu-ray players, even expensive high-end models, that are limited to Profile 1.1 and lack compatibility with the latest BD-Live features found on recent disc releases. Sony bumped the PS3 up to full BD-Live compliance in March of this year. The first Profile 2.0 standalone player, Panasonic’s DMP-BD50, debuted this spring at an MSRP of $700. That’s $300 more than the PS3, for a machine with a Blu-ray feature set that’s not much different. Frankly, there are few reasons to buy any Blu-ray player other than the PS3.
When I first got into the home theater hobby, it wasn’t for love of electronic gizmos or technology. It was for love of movies. I want to see every film in its best possible presentation. Over the years, this led me to Laserdisc, then DVD, and then to HD DVD (while it lasted) and Blu-ray. As I look at things now, Blu-ray appears to be in the middle of an identity crisis, unsure whether it wants to be a high-end home theater product for movie lovers or the hottest new toy for tech fans. When it premiered, DVD accomplished both goals, but Blu-ray won’t have it so easy. There are too many other tech toys on the market to distract the public’s attention now. DVD is successful in large part because it offers something for every taste, affordable and accessible to all. Blu-ray has yet to prove that it will live up to that standard, or establish itself as more than just another feature on the PlayStation 3. With increasing competition in the market from portable media, video on demand, and Internet downloads, Blu-ray’s window of opportunity is shrinking. The time to act is now.