Digital Downloads Are Not About To Kill Blu-Ray

hddvd1.jpgWith Toshiba’s announcement that it is to cease manufacture of HD DVD players, the High-Definition format wars are now over. With Blu-Ray left standing, some, such as Rob Beschizza at Wired are now saying that digital downloads will now kill Blu-Ray.

It’s an argument I want to support and many of you reading this will feel is a sound one, but it’s not going to happen anytime shortly. Here’s a few reasons why

Old Habits/ Age Dies Hard
I’m probably in the last generation who will ever remember a world without widespread computer use and internet everywhere. Younger generations (often called the “digital generation”) only know a world where anything can be accessed or downloaded at the click of a mouse button. To paraphrase many a politician, the young people are the future, and the next generation has nearly already abandoned CD’s, and physical media like DVDs and Blu-ray are next. But that doesn’t account for the many others who, as Rob Beschizza points out, already buy DVDs by the millions and will likely buy Blu-Ray now that HD wars are over (and as they did before DVD’s with VHS). Substantial generations have grown up with physical media, and this isn’t about to change tomorrow. Like music downloads though it will start to change, but like music that is going to take at least 5-10 years.

Access (or I want to watch movies on my TV)
I asked my mother the other day why she hadn’t downloaded something (legally of course) after she had purchased the physical media instead. Her response was simply that she didn’t want to watch it on her computer. Although many reading this will never give a second thought to watching video on their computer, there are still people who prefer consuming video on their TV sets. To be fair, HD on a 1080p 40″ TV set provides a better experience that on my 17″ Macbook Pro, although the TV set doesn’t easily come to bed with me.

appletv1.jpgThere are ways of brining digital downloads to TV sets, but none have anywhere near the penetration yet to offer a serious alternative to DVD and Blu-Ray. Apple is now offering HD movie downloads via their Apple TV box, but try and find more than a handful of people who own an Apple TV. Others offer a similar service such as Vudu, and there’s even Microsoft Media Center, and yet none are mainstream. Until such time net or network enabled devices become mainstream, TV and physical media will retain the upper hand.

Broadband limitations
The US internet community cried long and hard when Time Warner announced it was considering capping downloads on its internet plans in January, and yet I’m sure most non-Americans reading about it would have simply said welcome to our reality. The problem going forward is the days of cheap unlimited internet access in the United States may well be coming to an end as more and more download video and use P2P services. The low cost of bandwidth itself was a historical quirk that came about due to the first dot com bubble. That extra remnant capacity is being used now, and the costs of increasing capacity will likely be passed on to consumers. If this means more capped internet plans that immediately puts a constraint on the amount of video that can be downloaded. Outside of the United States this is already the case with capped plans in many countries, restraining potential growth in downloads (simply users will only be able to download so much content.)

Combine this with the need for high speed internet access that isn’t universally available. Digital video will not become dominant where it takes hours, sometimes days to download, when users can simply rent or buy the title on physical media.

As I said in the introduction, I’m all for the supremacy of digital downloads. I own two net enabled TV devices, a Zensonic network DVD player that allows me to stream content from any computer in the house or my NAS drive to my main TV set, and I’ve recently added an Apple TV to my line up. I wouldn’t swap this setup, and yet I’m still in the vast minority. Blu-Ray will likely be the last big/ mainstream physical media technology ever and it will have a strong future. The various factors needed for mainstream digital downloading and viewing will eventually combine to finally kill Blu-Ray (and the domination of all physical media) sometime between 2010 and 2020.