Eventually, distribution over the Internet is going to completely overtake any physical format, just as it has done with music. But that doesn’t mean Blu-ray can’t be a nice holdover until that future is fully realized. Unfortunately, up until now, the bodies behind the Blu-ray format have made it rather difficult for the format to truly take off. And just now they’ve finally acknowledged, and potentially fixed that.
You see, up until now if you wanted to make a Blu-ray player or even a disc, you had to get a license from three different organizations that represented the Blu-ray patent holders. This is because there are 18 — yes 18 — different companies that hold patents on the Blu-ray technology. Besides the complications involved with gaining approval from three organizations, this licensing process cost you as much as $20 per player, as BetaNews points out.
But now, Sony, Phillips and Panasonic have joined together in announcing a single Blu-ray license for player and disc makers. In some cases, this should cut the licensing costs by more than half for Blu-ray players and bring the licensing costs for discs down to $0.11 for a read-only disc, $0.12 for a recordable disc and $0.15 for a rewritable disc. The slash in prices will make it easier for companies to make Blu-ray products. And the fact that they’ll now only have to go to one body to get a license, rather than several, will probably help even more.
The convoluted licensing system is one of the reasons Apple chief executive Steve Jobs called Blu-ray “a bag of hurt” in the past. But while this move may open the door for a company like Apple, which has been on Blu-ray’s side since the whole HD DVD versus Blu-ray war, to launch devices with Blu-ray drives, it’s pretty clear that Apple is entrenched in its distribution-over-the-Internet approach.
Still, an Apple TV with a built-in Blu-ray player would be a very attractive purchase for a lot of consumers who want the best of both worlds. As would something like an Xbox 360 with a built-in Blu-ray player (Microsoft had previously supported HD DVD and had an add-on player for the 360). While the Blu-ray format may run counter to what both are trying to do with digital distribution, the fact that we’re nowhere near being able to transmit Blu-ray quality HD video over the Internet could make the technology a nice add-on to set-top boxes for the next couple of years. And it could even help sell units to those unsure about Internet distribution (and serve as a gateway drug of sorts for that).
But the larger question may be, do people really care about the superior picture quality of Blu-ray that much? You might think so, with HD TVs now becoming commonplace. But the more likely truth is that people are perfectly happy with the picture quality of standard DVDs (helped with upscaling found in newer DVD players) and the HD video from services such as iTunes and Xbox Live.
If Blu-ray is going to save itself as a technology that can thrive for a couple of years, this is its opportunity. After winning the HD DVD versus Blu-ray war, those in charge of the format have squandered the last year with high costs and bureaucracy. Now they’ve acted, but manufacturers need to help out as well and produce Blu-ray players at or below the $100 price point. If they can bundle them with Netflix Watch Instantly streaming service, all the better.
Otherwise, we’re going to go straight from DVD to streaming over the Internet. It’s happening already.