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Is Video Streaming Killing Blu-ray?

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

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I read an interesting, alarming article last week called "Blu-ray: Death by Streaming" by Robin Harris, and even though it's a short piece, it packed quite a punch for me, mostly in the very first line: "The Blu-ray gamble has failed: streaming has won the war for consumer’s hearts and minds. Blu-ray will limp along, but the action is in streaming." I've written before about the benefits of streaming, and how it has affected my own thoughts and practices surrounding movie rentals, but I never took the additional step of pronouncing that streaming will prove to be the demise of high-definition media. Even as I write these words, that sounds insane to me, but there's also a part of me that fears there's truth in the statement.

Because, according to the article, "DVD/Blu-ray sales [are] down 20 percent from the year-ago quarter." And as I've said before, there's a sort of desperation in the disc market these days, with big-box retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy deep-discounting their media to almost ridiculous levels. I'm getting new, high-profile Blu-ray discs consistently for less than half of their suggested retail prices, and catalog titles are almost always less than $10—sometimes less than $5. Compare these prices with the premium price tags we saw just a couple years ago, and it's clear that the studios want to pump discs into the market and jumpstart demand. (Indeed, some say that it was the initially high prices of Blu-ray that stunted its acceptance in a market that was already moving toward the convenience of streaming video.)

Hidden in that same line of the article is the admission that, "Yes, Blu-ray sales were up 10 percent." These gains are no doubt due to the slashed pricing that we've seen, but surely that number also speaks to new penetration among consumers. Regardless of the lure of video streaming, it's hard to get past the whole attitude of owning media. I don't know about you, but I still place a large sense of value on my DVD/Blu-ray collection, just as I value my book collection. I love having a library of items to enjoy; heck, I even pay an absurd amount of attention to the packaging! I fear that this kind of mentality is pretty quickly becoming old-fashioned and silly. And wasteful. Not only can these discs be expensive—and boy, can they add up!—but they take up a lot of space. I might as well admit it: I'll watch some of this media only once, and then it will simply gather dust and consume storage space.

So, sure, I love the appeal of streaming video, and I can see its advantages compared with those of bulky, inconvenient physical media. But there's another factor in play, and that's the quality factor. As much as I love the ability to sit down with Netflix streaming and call up a movie to watch at a moment's notice, the fact is that the video quality isn't even close to the 1080p high definition that Blu-ray can deliver. To say otherwise is laughable. Inherent quality isn't there, and it's also entirely dependent on the bandwidth of your Internet connection. Connections can fluctuate, and video quality suffers directly as a result. And I can't even count the number of times my feed has stalled out and I've gotten the sometimes-endless progress bar awaiting reconnection. A few times, I've just shut off Netflix in frustration. (Sometimes even ultra-convenience isn't as fabulous as advertised.)

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