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Is Video Streaming Killing Blu-ray?

Jun 20, 2011 3:32 PM, By Jason Bovberg

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The resolution of streaming images isn't close to HD quality, and it doesn't seem as if that standard will be reached anytime soon. But the question is whether most consumers even care. This reality boggles my mind, but I can't help but recall the same debate that raged through the music industry over the past decade. In that war, too, consumers willingly traded quality (particularly in the forms of the fabulous high-def audio formats Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio) for portability, convenience, and volume—and now we're in an era in which low-quality MP3 files reign supreme, to the detriment of disc, which has lost huge market value and is relegated to essentially a storage medium and a format that old folks (like me) still prefer.

Is the same thing happening with our beloved Blu-ray disc? I fear that it will be the long-term result. After all, according to the aforementioned article, "In North America, Netflix is now 29.7 percent of peak downstream traffic and has become the largest source of Internet traffic overall." Streaming is growing incredibly quickly, far outpacing the modest gains that Blu-ray is seeing in the market. The author maintains that Blu-ray’s window of opportunity has slammed shut—alarming words for this media collector.

I find myself valuing both methods of media distribution, and for now I like to think that DVD and Blu-ray (like the CD) will continue to have a role in the home, albeit a smaller one. Maybe I won't be able to always find my favorite obscure films on disc, but my hope is that disc-based media will continue to hold the distinction of the very best experience of visual art and entertainment, and that studios will continue to offer the kinds of added-value supplements that are another reason disc-based media will continue hanging on. When's the last time you were able to stream a director's commentary online? Heck, even the rental Blu-ray discs that Netflix sends in the mail typically lack the supplements of their consumer versions.

But, again, I have to remind myself to think from the point of view of the average consumer, and when I do, I begin to despair. The average consumer doesn't care about supplements at all, just as he or she can handle low-resolution video even when stellar alternatives are readily available. Most consumers have never listened to an audio commentary, and most consumers have never heard of HDMI or 1080p or "enhanced for widescreen TVs." It's gibberish for them.

Which is why, yes, I think Blu-ray and DVD will ultimately fade out. For now, physical media will enjoy a brief period of relevance thanks to old-school collectors and videophiles. But in the end, it's streaming that will hold sway. We should probably begin our efforts now to ensure that the quality of those downloads remains high.

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