Why Didn’t Blu-Ray Take Over the World?

There was a battle over dvd standards a few years back that was similar to the fight between VHS and Beta Max a decade or so even earlier. Sony had released their Blu-Ray player, and Toshiba had invented a rival called HD DVD. On the surface, the upcoming battle didn’t really seem all that significant (DVDs were still working fine), but Sony was about to release its Playstation 3 with a Blu-Ray player, and Toshiba was putting its HD DVD into the new XBox 360, made by Microsoft. So, the battle waged.

Strangely enough, even though the XBox 360 was the stronger seller (Sony dropped the ball and took way too long to release the Playstation 3), in the end, enough movie companies fell into Sony’s camp, and the Blu-Ray player eventually defeated the HD DVD format, becoming the only survivor. I don’t even think you can find an HD DVD movie anymore.

Yet, for some reason, even though Blu-Ray beat HD DVD, it still has yet to surpass DVD as the standard way of releasing new content for movies, TV shows and computer games. Instead, there has been an almost rebirth of the normal DVD player, the Blu-Ray remaining a higher end product but with an inability to maintain its dominance based on superiority alone.

And it is superior to DVD. In all ways. If you put a DVD player next to a Blu-Ray player and play them both at the same time, it’s obvious which one is better. But is that enough to make a difference?

You see, a couple of other things are going on that made the move to Blu-Ray not happen. First, Blu-Rays never replaced DVDs when it comes to price. In order to be the replacement, the price needs to be set at what people are willing to pay for movies and TV shows. For an average movie, there was a set price that people were willing to pay, and this came from years of establishing that market. Blu-Rays are almost always much more expensive. This was supposed to change over time as they took over the market, in that the prices would come down to match what DVDs used to be, so that they would effectively replace them. But that never happened. Instead, if you paid $19 for a DVD, you were always paying $29-35 for a Blu-Ray. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it is when it comes to the economics of how DVD entertainment was expected. As long as Blu-Rays remained higher in price, it was always going to be seen as an exclusive item, and more of a luxury.

Blank Blu-Ray dvd prices never came down. They’re really expensive. A colleague pointed out to me that a dvd with the actual movie on it is sometimes cheaper than a blank Blu-Ray dvd. As long as that’s the case, you’re never going to get full adoption of the product. Plus, the players are still very expensive. It’s a no go all the way through.

One problem that Blu-Rays have that you never had with dvds is that you often have to make firmware upgrades. People don’t like that. Sorry. When they’re forced to keep updating their software for their dvd player, they get annoyed. With a dvd player, they don’t have to do it. Chances are pretty good, they’re not going to switch. When many dvd players are not connected online, you have even more of a problem.

The last point is probably the most important for the current situation. Blu-Rays needed to be the replacement for dvds, but instead we’re quickly moving online to streaming technology. People don’t even need dvds anymore, and if they see that as the obvious future, the replacement of the dvd is almost dead on a arrival. The thought was that people would pay more money for better quality, but instead streaming has gone the opposite direction, where people are willing to take less quality with more convenience. With that trade off, you might see why Blu-Rays might never take over the world.

It’s a great technology, but it may have been brought in too late to replace the model that was already going to be replaced by something different. Not necessarily better, but more convenient. Unfortunately, not always does the obvious successor become the winner.

duaneWhy Didn’t Blu-Ray Take Over the World?