We live in a truly remarkable age. The age where just about everything we do has a digital imprint – social media, entertainment, communications, heck even business is often conducted over the internet and other digital forms, with what has now become a remarkable interconnected lifestyle for all of us. The humble mobile phone, for example, has long since left the domain of simple phone calls; nowadays, your touchscreen phone is nigh capable of launching nuclear missiles from an off-shore submarine, they contain so much technology. Even a bottom of the range portable tablet device can multi-task, making calls, surfing the web and everything but make you a morning coffee.
The future of technology seems to be leaning towards streaming technology, coupled with this newfangled “cloud” technology some companies are pushing. A decentralized storage mechanism for all your downloaded content, from movies to music to web browsing seems anathema to me, as someone who grew up in the dawn of the computer age and who’s more comfortable saving my stuff on my own hard drive for easy access later. That being said, this appears to be the way computer technology is going, with less and less people using, or even owning, a PC in the last few years.
Equally as fluid is the progress made in digital cinema technology – from the latest HD RED cameras and their brethren, to the advent of full High Definition home technology such as Blu-Ray, it seems with each passing year we’re being introduced to more and more stuff to make our entertainment experience better, faster and clearer. I read an article somewhere in 2011 which made the point of questioning just where the future of home cinema was headed. It would seem that the major movie studios are pushing for this streaming technology to maintain a stricter control over their product, the kind of thing currently in play as “digital downloads” – a short term ownership of a transferable copy of said film which is interchangeable between playback devices. Also on the cards is this “cloud” technology, which is mooted by music companies as the way to store your old CD collection (for anybody reading this who doesn’t remember what a CD is, Google it!) and somehow minimizes the potential for piracy. An aside: I want to tackle the subject of piracy in a future article, so I won’t go into it right here, but both piracy and cost of purchasing music and film seem to be linked in a vicious circle.
Folk are already asking what’s going to come next after Blu-Ray. Some are singing the death of the physical format thanks to the improvements of digital technology allowing faster downloads, better streaming and higher quality files being available for consumers. Are these folks on the right track, or are they getting a little carried away? I despair at the tech companies getting carried away at trade shows such as CES, where everyone comes out with new and improved tech for folks to spend their money on, but I have to ask: have we reached saturation point? DVD, the ugly cousin to Blu-Ray was introduced in 1997, and caused a seismic shift in the way home consumers watched their favorite movies – the vast gulf between the ubiquitous VHS quality and the newer DVD technology ensured the new format became so hotly desired it could never fail. Blu-Ray, the successor to DVD, came along at a time when DVD had pretty much become the single major player in the home cinema market. The difference between DVD and Blu-Ray as a technology, however, was not as substantial – at least, not to the average film fan who didn’t have a mega-budget home cinema room in their house. This, coupled with the competing HD-DVD format, creating yet another technological format war, held Blu-Ray back from becoming the dominant format for home cinema viewing, although at the conclusion of that war, Sony’s blue light creation quickly gained a stranglehold on the market. Cheaper televisions, from plasma to LED and LCD, coupled with a decrease in the cost of software, saw Blu-Ray and the High Definition market start to soar, until now the majority of middle-class consumers now own and prefer the HD format over DVD.
But are these same people ready for the Next Big Thing? Blu-Ray has only been in the game since 2006 – barely half a decade as I write this – and considering it’s a relatively new technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking the major tech companies simply wanted to boost their bottom lines by trying to throw us a new technology so quickly. Has the market become so over-saturated by new technology that people are just going to stick with what they know for a while? Blu-Ray was marketed as the best possible sound and image, hammered down our throats by Sony and the rest of the BD consortium – unless we get something better than the best, why would we change, right? Internet-capable televisions are able to stream movies directly out of a box, people can download films legitimately via the internet and watch them in the comfort of their own home more easily now than twenty years ago, and the quality of Blu-Ray has – to my mind – yet to be equaled by the downloadable crowd.
The biggest reason that I see to why Blu-Ray isn’t ready to be superseded is the fact that a large percentage of folks prefer to actually own a copy of their favorite film. While music is inherently a fluid concept, and the advent of the Mp3 format allows minimal loss of signal for replay on portable devices, movies are a different prospect altogether. They require larger space for storage, especially at high quality, and invariably folks prefer to watch them on their PC, television or large format screen – I can’t recall the last time I saw somebody sitting through Fellowship Of The Ring on their iPhone. People want to “own” something tangible, something real. A file on a computer somewhere doesn’t feel as nice as seeing a handsome Blu-Ray cover on a shelf waiting for you to watch it. It’s the intangible aspect of ownership that the major tech and film companies must overcome in order to supersede actual software within the short term. Downloading a film in full 1080p HD, with full master quality audio, is currently a prohibitively expensive and bandwidth intensive prospect for most internet users. Some regions where internet usage is capped by usage also prevents an uptake in downloading large volumes of content, essentially curtailing both the legal and the illegal content markets. Until internet speeds shape up to allow streaming of content in Blu-Ray quality audio and image with no lag or bandwidth issues, I suspect Blu-Ray is going to be around for a while to come.
Maybe in twenty years I’ll look back on this article and despair at my naivete, but I hope not. Until we get to the era of human evolution like Star Trek, and can reproduce entertainment in a holographic format, I’d like to think that having a film on a shelf is infinitely preferable to one in the cloud.
What do you think? Is Blu-Ray here to stay, or will it be moved aside for online downloads? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below!!