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Will Blu-ray be the Last Physical Medium in Home Theater?

May 16, 2011 12:55 PM, By Jason Bovberg

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Beyond its paucity of compelling web-enabled features, Blu-ray also seems now to be scrambling to keep up with the already-fading 3D craze, and the result is that it has taken its eye off the ball. Just as 3D has always been a gimmicky fad in public theaters, so shall it remain, for now, in the home theater. Nevertheless, Blu-ray spent a lot of time and effort—still is, in fact—trying to thrill home audiences with comin’-at-ya technology, and by doing so it has splintered what should be a narrower, more compelling focus.

And that lack of focus opens the door to the other, more pernicious factor: the incredible rise of media streaming and rental services. In my home, we are suddenly and rather deeply involved with media streaming through both Netflix and Comcast On Demand. No more than a week after implementing Netflix in our home-entertainment system, in fact, my kids had completely forgotten about our rather substantial “family movies” DVD collection and had switched over to the streaming mentality, ready at any moment to fire up the Nintendo Wii and choose from the vast selection of kids programming. DVDs and Blu-rays had suddenly become a giant inconvenience. Even those movies we already have on disc, they’d rather access through Netflix!

I’m an aging technophile, so I don’t see myself making so quick a transition, but I do appreciate convenience as much as the next guy. I already make heavy use of the DVR, which gives me the convenience of fast-forwarding through annoying commercials on broadcast TV. And I appreciate the ease with which I can call up a favorite film or TV show from Netflix’s extensive and growing selection. But I still place tremendous value on my DVD/Blu-ray collection. If nothing else, these are my backup media for entertainment I might eventually store on my PC. And they’ll almost always play perfectly, compared with streaming media that sometimes experience bandwidth issues. But I also realize that I’m increasingly in the minority with my physical-medium opinions. And data pipes and streaming capacities will only grow larger.

Given the near ubiquitous nature of these kinds of subscription services, what could possibly be the next physical medium? The fact that 3D Blu-ray isn’t exactly thriving leads me to think it won’t be a disc. A USB key? A card with a magnetic strip? More likely, physical media will continue to fade. I can now imagine my daughters growing into a world that contains no physical media. That reality was easy to imagine with music, isn’t quite as easy with video content, and remains most difficult with books. But at this point, anything is possible.

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