Our recap of Blu-con 2.0 continues with news on the growing number of Blu-ray players capable of streaming video content.By Michael S. Palmer
There we were. Blu-Con 2.0. Up on the stage, sitting mere inches apart: mortal enemies and rental competitors Netflix and Blockbuster. Nothing overtly dramatic happened, sadly, but there was an awkward tension in the air. Netflix the young upstart; Blockbuster the foundering giant. Then came the numbers: Netflix plans to ship discs through 2030; they currently have 11 million subscribers, with 1 million of those paying a premium for Blu-ray access. Blockbuster, not to be outdone, claims 50 million people per day enter its stores (Seem a little high to anyone?), in addition to forming new alliances with TiVo and Samsung for “Blockbuster Online.”
Despite jabs over who offers older streaming content (Netflix*) vs. newer releases (Blockbuster, CinemaNow), it was clear to these companies (and their researchers) that physical media is here to stay. Many of you may be downloading and streaming, but most consumers still identify a “purchase” or “ownership” with a tangible object (obviously this excludes music). As evidence, consider the fact that people were still buying VHS/DVD combo units as recently as last year. Because they own physical copies of movies.
This is fantastic news for Blu-ray as big box retailers like Best Buy and Walmart join forces with hardware manufactures and Hollywood studios to push Blu-ray into the 90% of homes who do not yet have it. The final sales quarter is immensely important for Blu-ray and for the first time, Blu-ray disc is a top 10 most-wanted holiday gift for adults. This could be the year where customers finally understand why their HDTVs need quality high-def source material. Where Blu-ray becomes mainstream.
But Blu-ray isn’t a standalone feature anymore. Slow, oversized, single-minded, clunky machines have given way to sleek, broadband-capable home media centers. Blu-ray Disc’s always had great picture and sound. And now the Profile 2.0 players have arrived in a big way, offering extra choices / content for customers.
In fact, “available choices” is what it means to be a modern consumer (“I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now!”). This is why Blu-ray needs streaming / download services as much as streaming / download services need Blu-ray. It’s a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which all ties into what Blu-ray players do, and where they're located in the home.
Alone, Blu-ray has spectacular picture and unbeatable sound. Its abilities all stem from digital bandwidth, which is three to six times higher than most broadband internet connections, meaning its quality easily trumps streaming options (though Vudu HDX sure comes close). But, watching a Blu-ray is an “occasion”: a once or twice per week “event.” And, Blu-ray either means a trip to a physical location such as Best Buy and Blockbuster, or a multi-day wait from Netflix or online retailers like Amazon.
Streaming / digital downloads can be instant, and portable. There’s no trip to any store. Available titles aren’t out of stock, or listed as a “long wait”, though selection is (at present) limited, and downloading an entire movie can sometimes take just as long as a trip to the local Best Buy.
The real obstacle facing Internet based services? Families really don’t want to sit around a computer. Sure it’s nice when traveling, or in a dorm room, but the majority of Americans now have giant HDTVs and plush, inviting seating (we worked hard to pay for those comforts, and by God, we aim to use them!). Streaming has largely not been the domain of the living room. Sure Apple, Vudu and Netflix all offered separate boxes that you could hook up to the TV, but too many individual set top boxes is confusing for most. And, truthfully, none of these boxes flew off the shelf.
Now we have networked Blu-ray Disc players. Queen of the living room (where the HDTV is King), they multi-task for just about any type of media you could want. Still have a library of CDs and DVDs? Check. Want to watch your favorite new movies in stunning high def on Blu-ray? Check. Don’t want to bother going out, so the reduced quality of streaming is okay? Check. Feel the need to fire up YouTube to see dancing kittens, local news anchors swearing on camera, and red necks setting fireworks off in their pants? Check. Check. And Check. Using your Blu-ray player is no longer an “event” – it’s a convenient content portal, and it might as well be on and in use almost as much as the TV or computer.
In the modern era of media consumption, formats are no longer about winning or losing the entire market. Blu-ray is amazing, but unnecessary without the large TV and surround sound. Digital content is quick and portable, but lacks quality. But why separate them? The new future is one where we buy or rent CONTENT, not a format (see Best Buy’s announcement of building CinemaNow into most of its products). For example, with the just released ‘UP’ Blu-ray, the 4-disc set includes a Blu-ray for the home theatre, a DVD for the car or kids’ room, and a digital copy for an iPod or laptop on the go. Sure we can’t be tethered to the living room, but when not out and about, Profile 2.0 Blu-ray players just make sense. And they make things simple. No one wants 800 components under their TV. Few as possible please, with a variety of services.
We’re in the infant stages of these cross-media platforms, but here’s a rundown on where to find these integrated streaming / download services that were featured at Blu-Con 2.0, as well as a recent Dolby event I attended:
Netflix streaming is subscription based, and included with rental plans over $8.99/month. It works with Roku, TiVo DVRs, Xbox 360, LG / Samsung / Insignia Blu-ray players, LG TVs, LG & Samsung Blu-ray Home Theater Systems, and now the Playstation 3.
Vudu is like on demand. Individual rentals and purchases. Check out on LG TVs (LH50 & PS80), Mitsubishi TVs (the Unisen Dimaond 249 series) and the LG BD390 Blu-ray Disc player.
Blockbuster Online services can be individual rentals or purchase, but I believe the service can be part of their subscription package. This is brand new, and available on TiVO DVRs and Samsung Blu-ray Disc players (BD-P1600, BD-P3600, BD-P4600), Samsung Home Theater Systems (HT-BD1250, HT-BD3252, HT-BD7200, HD-BD8200), and Samsung internet ready LED / LCD / Plasma TVs.
Roxio’s CinemaNow works with TiVo DVRs and LG Blu-ray Disc players (BD370 & BD390).
* Due to its subscription nature, Netflix is unable to stream newer movies due to distribution deals made with pay cable outlets, such as HBO. TV shows like ‘Heroes’ appear the day after broadcast, and Netflix does have an output deal with Starz, but Starz movies stream much later than the Blu-ray/DVD release of the movie. Blockbuster, Vudu, and CinemaNow each download, or stream new releases because one pays per rental.