Why I won’t buy Blu-ray

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With streaming services, digital downloads and a still-huge DVD market, we consider whether Blu-Ray should be your home movie viewing format of choice.

In psychology, social comparison theory considers that individuals evaluate their own social status, abilities and opinions by way of comparison with others. Furthermore, the theory posits that once you have attained a high quality of life as defined by society at large, the only thing left to do is to be considered better than your contemporaries. In modern Western terms, this means that people often look to outperform their peers in life, love, work and most importantly, with their entertainment products.

In modern Western terms, people look to outperform their peers in life, love and most importantly, with their entertainment products

While Johnson down the road may have a prettier wife, a more expensive house and a faster car, at least he doesn’t have a home cinema system with true 7.1 surround sound. In the home entertainment industries, social comparison theory means that there is always a consumer-driven need for new and better tech. DVDs replaced the cumbersome tape format with a disc-based physical media that has continued to reign supreme even with the introduction of Blu-ray.

The release of The Matrix in 1999 and its success in being the first DVD to sell a million copies signalled the arrival of DVD as the dominant way in which people would watch their movies at home. That said, year on year, Blu-ray sales have risen steadily, even though their rise is parallel to that of streaming services and the purchase of digital media. Does the slow uptake of Blu-ray demonstrate a reluctance of consumers to abandon the DVD format or does it point to signs of the impending death of physical media?

avatar in 3D

As with The Matrix’s positioning as a DVD system seller, Blu-ray has positioned blockbuster titles with great visual splendour as a reason to adopt the format. Cameron’s Avatar was a dual purpose 3D TV and Blu-ray unit shifter, though in the three weeks following its release on home formats, it sold more than twice as many copies on DVD in comparison to Blu-ray. The dream is a home cinema system with surround sound that vibrates the ribs and a display that dulls real life in comparison. Blu-ray desperately wants to be at the centre of that dream. Does the greater visual fidelity justify an inflated price?

Does Blu-ray’s visual fidelity justify inflated price? The Shining will always be The Shining, regardless of image resolution

This is a question of personal preference not only in terms whether visual fidelity is a key selling point of any given format, but also whether ones movie consumption hinges on those titles that benefit from Blu-ray. Is Blu-ray necessary for a re-watch of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue? Whilst it is impossible to deny that Blu-ray offers an increase in quality, that increase is a small step rather a giant leap away from DVD. Furthermore, if your viewing habits do not centre around SFX-happy movies, then the bloated price tag cannot be justified. The Shining will always be The Shining, regardless of image resolution.

In simple terms, a library of DVDs collected over a decade does not warrant being upgraded to Blu-ray for a small increase in visual quality. One of the early problems of the Blu-ray format was availability – titles outside of top 20 charts and new releases were either difficult to find or non-existent on the format. The same problem exists today, though in a more limited form – Blu-ray is rapidly becoming the format of choice for distributors and as such, more and more titles are available. That said, old classics, world cinema or obscure titles are still criminally difficult to find, and again are often grossly overpriced on the format.

jack nicholson cuckoo's nest

If the decision was as simple as choosing between price or quality, then Blu-ray would inevitably become a viable option in both terms as the pricing curve levels out. But the introduction and increased popularity of streaming and digital services has problematised the viability of Blu-ray as a format. The physical library is dead, friends; long live the digital one. Streaming services such as Netflix and LoveFilm have grown in popularity, and for many, the value and ease of access to a large online library negates the need for a physical media library. In terms of picture quality, for those in broadband illiterate areas, Blu-ray will always win out. As high speed broadband penetrates deeper in the market though, the quality of online services will increase – Netflix have confirmed they are working on a 4K streaming service, for example.

The increased popularity of streaming has problematised the viability of Blu-ray as a format. The physical library is dead

That said, whilst Apple’s intuitive and ubiquitous iTunes helped revolutionise the distribution and consumption of digital music, there has yet to be a similar game-changing service for movies. As demonstrated by Microsoft’s decision to reverse policies relating to used game licenses, there is still a problem with consumer notions of ownership when it comes to digital media. For myself, literature deserves to be in the personal and tangible physical form of a book. Movies and videogames are far more transient by their very nature and, outside of collector’s edition box sets, I do not feel the need to own a movie or game in a physical sense.

Overpriced and overhyped, Blu-ray is the industrial part of the movie industry made physical. With the eventual move to 4K, will those who have upgraded their DVD libraries to Blu-ray then consider a purchase of a special 4K edition of their movies whilst those of us with high speed internet simply stream high quality movies? Social comparison theory would say that yes, some consumers will always feel the need to be better than their peers and as such, they will buy 4K Blu-rays and display them in vast libraries meant to illustrate their finely tuned taste in film. I, on the other hand, will use that space for something else entirely. A bookcase or record player perhaps.


Featured image: Diego Correa (via Flickr)

Inset images: 20th Century Fox; United Artists

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