Format Wars - The Digital Battle Is Over Too

I was an agnostic in the hi-def video disc wars. I bought the first Blu-Ray player* not long after it came out, to take advantage of our 1080p television. Then we added an HD-DVD player, because it really, really sucked not having Serenity or Batman Begins in hi-def. But now that Blu-Ray reigns supreme, some people just can’t resist trying to kill it, too. Read:


Blu-ray won’t enjoy the same decade-long dominance DVD did after it succeeded VHS. But that’s not because there will be other challenger physical disc formats. Rather, instead of buying discs from Amazon, Best Buy or Wal-Mart, people will begin getting their entertainment in the form of digital downloads in larger volumes.

I don’t see it.

Blu-Ray might not ever achieve the same scale of dominance as DVD — because a lot of movies don’t really require a hi-def picture or seven-plus channels of uncompressed audio. For older movies, kid flicks and porn, DVD is probably quite good enough.

But are you really going to replace your DVD collection with digital downloads?

A double-layer Blu-Ray disc holds 50 gigabytes of data. That’s almost exactly the same size as my 6,300-song music collection — and I usually rip my CDs at high bitrates. One movie, with special features, would take up one fifth of my primary hard drive — before I make a backup in case my drive crashes. I’m also going to need a wireless server with enough bandwidth to get those 50 gigs from my computer to my TV. Easier then to burn my digital download to a blank Blu-Ray disc… so why did I spend countless hours downloading a digital version?


Sure, you could compress that data down to a smaller size, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose of having high definition in the first place. And we are talking about downloads “replacing” hi-def, after all. Even a vanilla DVD movie is about nine gigabytes — or about 2,100 songs at standard bitrates. How long would that take to download?

Speaking of downloads, your local broadband supplier might be squeezing your download speeds (or jacking up your bill) if you use “excessive bandwidth.” And that’s just for pirates trading crappy compressed, not-really-DVD-definition movies. We simply don’t have the bandwidth to support millions of legitimate consumers downloading multi-gigabyte files. Someday we’ll probably have the infrastructure to support speedy transfer of hi-def movies — but no time soon. Meanwhile, technology has already been demonstrated to bump Blu-Ray discs up to three or four or more layers — easily doubling today’s capacity. How long will it take to double the bandwidth of a super-high-speed internet that hasn’t yet been built?


However, to get an HD movie today, all you need to do is take a drive to Wal-Mart or direct your web browser to Amazon.

Physical media are here to stay.

*A Samsung unit. And after that fiasco, I’m never doing business with Samsung again. Horrible reliability, hostile customer service, and a remote control designed by engineers who had never met a human being, and had no clue what size our fingers are or what resolution our eyes can see.


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