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The Future of Home Entertainment?

Blu Ray isn’t working quite the magic for home entertainment media that it should. The DVD market share is still falling and Blu Ray can’t seem to rise fast enough to catch it. There’s a lot of talk about whether hard copy media – actually owning a piece of hardware containing the movie – is outdated and the future of media consumption lies in direct downloads, but I don’t ever think that people will stop buying disks or videos or whatever the hard-copy medium of the day is.

The Watchmen Blu Ray allows director Zack Snyder to offer a blow-by-blow account of the movie.

The Watchmen Blu Ray allows director Zack Snyder to offer a blow-by-blow account of the movie.

The main competitor would seem to be Netflix, which doesn’t seem to have a directly equivalent service set up in the UK and Ireland yet. The business operates a rental of disks, but it reckons that physical media has about nine years left. For them, the future lies in downloads – basically allowing the user to hook directly up to the net and download the films that they want to watch. Korean manufacturer LG Electronics has a television that can hook up to the internet and download content directly to the user’s living room. Why pay €20-30 for a feature you can download for a fraction of that? I can see why this is causing a slump in sales of so-called optical media – it’s cheaper and a lot of people will go for it on that basis.

On the other hand, as with any technological advancement, there will be stragglers. There will be people (like myself) who like having a physical library of the movies they own. There’s something about having a case and a DVD that just seems right. Just because you own an electronic personal reader doesn’t mean you throw away all your old books.

I can see the logic in the argument that the mainstay of home entertainment – the video cassette – was completely phased out and replaced by DVD, so can’t the same thing happen here? Maybe in a few years, but for the moment there’s nothing that direct downloads can offer (apart from cost effectiveness) that is outside the reach of a Blu Ray disk. DVD represented a huge upscale in visual quality from VHS – it also introduced the concept of “special features”, which are now a staple of movie consumption. Blu Ray represented a smaller – though still significant leap forward – in image quality. The HD downloads don’t represent an equivalent leap, so I don’t actively lose anything by not transitioning. They also lack these special features, but I can see them being added in some form in the future if the download model is to dominate home entertainment.

Blu Ray hasn’t seen as quick a growth as industry analysts expected, but I think don’t think that’s unreasonable. My girlfriend can’t tell the difference in image quality. So far, there’s relatively little in special features to distinguish a Blu Ray disk from a DVD disk. I’m reminded of early DVD disks, where you were lucky to get a trailer and a menu. Slowly it seems they’re learning though. The Watchmen Blu Ray has a unique commentary experience where director Zack Snyder sits down and watches the film with you, while comparing panels from the graphic novel or behind-the-scenes footage. I haven’t seen anything quite like and there’s some samples available on-line for you to check out.

Watch Zack Snyder re-enact Watchmen as a one-man show!

Watch Zack Snyder re-enact Watchmen as a one-man show!

Just on a sidenote, I’m amazed at the love that Warner Brothers seems to be showing the film, which was deemed a commercial flop. Obviously they intend to make a profit on it, so it’s not selfless, but there have to be easier ways of doing that – Harry Potter is out this month. Having seen the care gone into the release, I’m half-tempted just to spring for it – even knowing that they’re going to screw me with an Ultimate Cut closer to Christmas. The movie itself might have been a far cry from perfect, but there seems to be a lot of love (and money) that has gone into every facet of its production.

So, I don’t know. I’m not convinced that home media in its current form is entirely dead. I can see it losing even more of its market share, but I can’t see it completely disappearing. There will be a lot of people embracing the cheaper download option, but there are a lot of – admittedly sentimental – reasons to keep with the disks. I like being able to open my closet and browse while examining the boxes. I like taking some of those movies on holiday with me. Maybe that’s just me.

Time will tell.

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One Response

  1. Interesting post. I agree completely that there is something about having a physical library that just feels right. I can’t see myself switching over to an all-digital library. I think Blu-ray will eventually catch on. Players are still on the expensive side and, like you said, the special features seem to still be lacking. But once those things are fixed, I think it’ll catch on.

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