Blu-ray Is Killing Itself

I love a good high-def movie, and Blu-ray players are sweet. Only they're so feature rich, the discs themselves are an afterthought—DOA or relegated to a niche format reserved for the finest films.

Oh, come on—you can't tell me you don't see where this is going. Even though the format has grown 72% in the last quarter, every Blu-ray player we choose to review has an abundance of features that have nothing to do with Blu-ray. In fact, they all have to do with delivering movies in a different way, with more instant gratification.

The joke is, when we were pushing for Blu-ray 2.0 with BD-Live a year ago, we didn't realize that the ethernet port was really not about enhanced Blu-ray at all, but about video on demand. I own a few Blu-rays, like Wall-E, that have BD-Live components. Never even bothered with them. No point. But you'd be a 'tard to buy a Blu-ray player without an ethernet port, and you'd be a 'tard to buy a Blu-ray player without Netflix on demand, and at this point, another service for new-release movies, like Amazon VOD or CinemaNow.

Netflix gives me back seasons of 30 Rock and The Office in high-def. Pop quiz: Will I ever buy them on Blu-ray, or even DVD? No. I can even get stuff I'd have previously hunted down on disc, like The IT Crowd. I can get lots of the movies I previously owned on DVD instantly on demand for no cost other than the $10 monthly subscription. People don't even bitch about DRM with Netflix, because it's instant and always there, so even the copyright owners should be happy. Time Warner's boss even said he's thinking about offering a Netflix-like VOD distribution channel for HBO—nothing like all-you-can-eat Rome, Wire and Band of Brothers to kill DVD sales, and HBO still gets their mad money.

You want to talk video quality? Fine. I own The Dark Knight on Blu-ray. That movie is freakin' awesome, and I am happy to watch it on a Blu-ray player, while I sit exactly 47 inches from a 50-inch 1080p plasma television. But what about Billy Madison? I love that movie too, but I first owned it on a VHS playing in 4:3 at what you might call 240i, and I can verify that the high-def version is no funnier. In fact, instead of fishing out the HD DVD of it I have, and hooking up the HD DVD drive to my Xbox, I'd probably sooner try to find it on Netflix, in whatever video quality they're offering.

Besides, most people—most Giz readers, I'd wager—are watching "high def" movies on LCD TVs they bought at Costco for $899, so you can't tell me that they can see a difference between so-called VOD high-def and real bonafide Blu-ray high-def, even though there definitely is one.

The Criterion Collection belongs on Blu-ray. But six films by Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam and Akira Kurosawa do not an industry make. Like our discussion of audiophiles, there's a need to preserve (and even appreciate) video at very high quality, but that need doesn't trickle down to the masses, and especially doesn't matter for every single film, or even the vast majority of middle-of-the-road movies and TV. DVDs were a hit because they were the smartest way to deliver most video in the years 1999 to 2007. Now, the smartest way to deliver most video is over broadband, not on high-density shiny discs.

Don't get me wrong. You'll buy a "Blu-ray player." Stats show many of you already are. You may even buy some Blu-ray discs, or pay the extra $2 or $3 for Netflix Blu-ray rental. But the amount of time you'll spend watching Blu-ray on it will continue to dwindle, until, maybe one day, the disc tray just refuses to open from lack of use.