DVDs are so yesterday; Welcome to TedFlix

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
The HD-DVD format is dead. Toshiba made it official the other day, "conceding defeat to the competing Blu-ray technology backed by Sony." With retailers dropping the format from their stores and studios opting out of releasing movies in HD-DVD, Toshiba had little choice.

For Sony, it can afford to breathe a welcome sigh of relief. They dodged a bullet and avoided going 0-2 in media format wars (its Beta format lost out to VHS in the previous round). But they can't afford to relax too long. Blu-ray may be the victor here, but Sony may ultimately not have much to celebrate.

For starters, I doubt there will be a sudden upsurge in sales of Blu-ray DVD players. Most users will be content, for now, with their current DVD players. Only when the price of a Blu-ray player begins to approach what standard definition players cost today (under $100) is that likely to change.

On a related front: When I shifted from videotape to DVDs, I wound up repurchasing many of the movies I already owned in VHS. Doing so was worth it because the quality of the display and sound was so much better with DVDs. It was also a huge convenience to be able to skip almost instantly to any part of a movie (and not have to worry about rewinding). The added features that came with DVDs (such as deleted scenes and commentary tracks) were a bonus, although not critical ones for me.

I don't expect to make a similar conversion to Blu-ray, even after I buy a Blu-ray player. First, many older movies will never be released in a true HD-quality version, because such quality will not be possible. Second, the improvement of the HD version over a standard DVD version is not enough to make it worth the cost (at least to me) of purchasing a second (or even third) version of the same movie. If studios had some trade-in policy (where you get a discounted version of a Blu-ray DVD by trading in your old standard DVD), I might be inclined to bite, but I don't see this happening.

But all of this may well be moot. The DVD format, Blu-ray or otherwise, could be dead (or at least on life-support) before too long. It will take a few years, but it's coming. Downloading movies is what will slay the DVD. The specifics are still a bit unclear, but my crystal ball sees a mash-up of the Rhapsody music service, the iTunes Store, Apple TV, and Netflix. Let's call it TedFlix. I see it working something like this:

TedFlix will have a library that includes almost every film currently available (much like what the iTunes Store is today for music). Where an HD version of a movie exists, TedFlix will have both HD and standard definition versions of the movies. The HD version will be true 1080p. With devices similar to Apple TVs (let's call them Ted TVs), you will be able to download the movie directly to your TV. With just slightly improved download speeds, you should be able to start watching the movie almost immediately after you click to rent it.

The rental period will be 72 hours. Further, you will be able to rent up to a maximum of three movies in any 24 hour period and up to a maximum of 60 movies a month. The cost? A monthly subscription fee of $24.95 (perhaps less if economics allow).

TedFlix, if successful, would effectively kill off most of the demand for Blu-ray discs, as well as the DVD rental business. There will likely be some market remaining for retail purchases of DVD packages (such as to give one as a gift). But the demand will be small.

Still, there may be a place where Blu-ray could survive, even thrive: Blu-ray DVD burners. Let's include such a burner as part of each Ted TV unit. Why? Well, what if you want to watch all those "extras" that come on a purchased DVD, instead of just watching the movie? Or what if you want to be able to play a movie on a television other than the one to which your Ted TV is connected? Not a problem.

With TedFlix, you can optionally select to download and burn a complete DVD, an exact duplicate of what you would otherwise buy in a store. I foresee two variations here. In one case, the burned DVD only plays for 72 hours, and probably only plays on "authorized" devices (similar to how iTunes now works for purchased music). You pay a small fee (say $1.00) for each DVD that you choose to download and burn in this way. In the other case, you purchase the burned DVD (for a competitive price). It's now yours forever and has no authorization restrictions. However, just as with a purchased DVD, you won't be able to make copies of it. Admittedly, given the size capacity of Blu-ray DVDs, these burns may be impractical to do at current download speeds, but much faster connections are not too far off.

What about transferring movies to iPods and iPhones? I don't quite have this worked out yet. But a model for doing this already exists in the iTunes Store; I am sure it can be adapted to work in TedFlix.

With TedFlix and Ted TV, you will be able to watch any movie you want, whenever you want—for just one monthly fee. Want to watch a movie for a second time, months after you first watched it? Just select it again. There's no additional cost. And if movie technology improves, you'll get the benefit of it, without having to repurchase your DVD library.

This may not be the future that Sony or the movie studios would prefer, but I doubt that will stop the train. I think I already hear the whistle in the distance. I certainly hope so.

Update: After writing this, I noticed that David Pogue also posted a column today on this topic. He takes a much more pessimistic view of downloaded movies. I don't disagree with his assessment. However, he is talking about the present. I am talking about a hopeful future.

Comments

John Martellaro

Often overlooked in the download scenario are locations and geographies where a physical disc is preferable and a personal, consumer download account isn’t available.

- Over seas military bases
- Military and civilian research ships
- Prisons
- Libraries
- Schools
- Remote outposts like the Antarctic
- Rural homes limping along with land phone lines and maybe Hughes Net.

In addition, consumers are faced with the prospect of backing up terabytes of media files. And, as we know, non Mac users don’t have access to Time Machine.  So a Blu-ray disc is handy, read-only, durable storage - and not as highly compressed.

Now I gotta go see what Pogue wrote.
——-

Predrag

Well, I checked out Pogue’s writing and it is the usual, typical Pogue. While his article focused on specific movie download boxes (AppleTV, Tivo, X-Box etc), I tend to agree on the basics of his thoughts, in that there is the convenience, but there is limited appeal.

Essentially, if we look at the state of the music download industry, we can get some ideas about the direction of the movie downloads. ITunes has been out for some four years now. It has picked up steam very quickly and continues to dominate the field. We can safely say that it is definitely not marginal; it is mainstream and majority of those 100+ million iPod owners know about it. Yet, it accounts for barely 10% of music sales, and majority of those come from a handful of countries. Add to that the fact that an average song is 4MB long (and movie about 1,000MB), it is clear that bandwidth must grow much faster in order for movie downloads to catch up to the pace of growth of music downloads.

Outside of South Korea, very few countries can claim that reasonably fast broadband is the mainstream. Movies are sold, rented and otherwise consumed throughout the world. It will take more than 10 years for broadband to penetrate global markets enough so that movie downloads could become a comparable option.

I’m sure Blu-Ray will have just as much life expectancy as DVD had, before it is replaced by the next great thing.

AC

What do you mean no HD versions of older films exist? They exist on film, just like most new films. What you do, you see, is scan the film and digitize the images. (Insert patronizing tone of voice, because this is obvious.)

Old film has plenty of resolution in itself to be able to make high definition digital versions out of it.

Ted
[quote comment=“90”]What do you mean no HD versions of older films exist?.

It can be done, as you say, but it won’t result in the stunning quality that you see with modern movies. There are old movies that don’t look much improved in standard DVD vs. VHS. From what I understand, they won’t look that much better, if at all, in HD. That’s all I meant. I revised the text slightly to clarify this. Thanks.

- Ted

webjprgm

I don’t care much for commentary and deleted scenes, but there’s no way I’d want The Incredibles without the extra feature “Jack Jack Attack.”  And occasionally I like to watch a Making-of feature too.  So, since DVDs are about the same price as an iTunes movie anyway (depending on where you buy from), I don’t see any reason to buy movies online.

This is assuming, as well, that you have an AppleTV and don’t want to watch movies at your friends’ houses.

The TedFlix idea of watching watching any movie is very compelling, but I’d never pay $30/mo unless I was otherwise paying that much to buy new DVDs, which I’m not by a longshot. Some people are, however, and it would work for them.

Dahveed

Call me a dinosaur, but I have recently come to the opinion that watching TV is a compete waste of time.  I am also tired of paying $20 for a DVD that contains advertising that is getting harder to skip and seems to scratch very easy.  Last year I maybe bought 1 disk.  Years before that I would purchase 10-20 disks.  I have kids and it seems now that even a fingerprint on a disk causes problems.

I, like Ted, will not even consider upgrading to a blue-ray player until the price of the equipment drops to less than an $100 and the price of the disks drops below $20.  If neither of those happen, I might never enter the blue-ray world.  Currently, the thought of missing the blue-ray revolution does NOT fill me with dread, but instead gives me the feeling of having found many hours and countless hundreds of dollars to spend actually having a life…

Old Rogue

Update: After writing this, I noticed that David Pogue also posted a column today on this topic. He takes a much more pessimistic view of downloaded movies. I don’t disagree with his assessment. However, he is talking about the present. I am talking about a hopeful future.

Oh, dear.  I found David Pogue’s arguments very persuasive, especially once I followed his link to the comparison shots of HD Apple TV, Blu-ray, et al.  Check them out for yourselves.

http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/articles/comments/apple-tv-20-vs-blu-ray-dvd-hd-cable-the-comparison/

Dutch

Blu-ray is awesome. Since I live in Mexico, it is the only way for me to get HD movies. It has nothing to do with bandwidth, the problem is that nobody will offer HD downloadable content in this country for years. With Blu-ray I can wait until it finally happens, while enjoying gorgeous movies on my big flaat screen TV. Mexico is just an example, there are many countries in the same situation and hence the need for a physical media solution over the next few years.

toke

[quote comment=“91”][quote comment=“90”]What do you mean no HD versions of older films exist?.

It can be done, as you say, but it won’t result in the stunning quality that you see with modern movies. There are old movies that don’t look much improved in standard DVD vs. VHS. From what I understand, they won’t look that much better, if at all, in HD. That’s all I meant. I revised the text slightly to clarify this. Thanks.
- Ted

Reason for those dvd’s not looking better than vhs’ is that they were made from same old low quality ntsc video master. Original camera negative film has been “HD” for last 60 years. If the camera negatives have been archived properly and film is restored properly. 60 years old movie will look as good as new. Have you seen eg. Vertigo’s restored version?

John G.

Everyone is so quick to downplay the Blu-ray victory. I wonder why? They won and that’s that. Blu-ray will be the most efficient, popular way to watch video in HD for years to come.

All the stuff that Ted is talking about will NEVER happen. Studios will never get it together enough to come up with a universal, compelling rental scheme, and our broadband (in the U.S. at least) will never reach the necessary penetration or speeds to make it worth while.

We are at the very least years…YEARS…away from any of the myriad of downloadable film strategies offering a comprehensive catalog and drm strategy that consumers will be willing to live with.

Downloadable HD is literally a pipe dream, and the pipes are too small, and fair use of the pipes is in dispute. Blu-ray is a physical reality, a paradigm that people are already used to, and it comes with all the extras and packaging that people want to let them know that they own something.

I’ve got my PS3, and I’m sure a bunch of other people will be joining me real soon.

James

MacObserver already wrote about scanning older movies to HD quality:

http://www.macobserver.com/article/2006/06/12.10.shtml

Ted

[quote comment=“97”]Reason for those dvd’s not looking better than vhs’ is that they were made from same old low quality ntsc video master. Original camera negative film has been “HD” for last 60 years. If the camera negatives have been archived properly and film is restored properly. 60 years old movie will look as good as new.

OK. I stand corrected.

The quality of the transfer does indeed appear to be the main limiting factor. I erred in not recognizing this fact. FWIW, here’s a Web page I came across that nicely summarizes the issues.

Still, if a good transfer of an older movie does not exist, then I assume there will be little added value to an HD version of the movie.

In any case, this point (while worth getting correct) has little bearing on the main points of the blog entry.

ckirkeby

I am a 49 year old veteran of LP’s, cassettes, CD’s, Beta and VHS tapes, and DVD’s.  I own 2 Apple TV’s a very high end dedicated home theater (108” screen) and a have a secondary home theater in the family room.  I have been an audiophile for years buying SACD, direct disk recordings and such.  I have always believed in physical media, however volume and convenience are modifying my thought process.  I now purchase a lot of music from iTunes and have burned all my LP’s to digital.  I have rented a couple of HD movies from iTunes and am impressed with download speed and quality.  Is it 1080P?  No.  Can most display equipment in consumers hands today handle 1080P?  No.  Is the difference between 1080P and compressed 720P worth the price?  I am starting to believe the answer is also No.  I really like the Ted Flix concept and believe I would probably skip the Blu-ray option, unless I just needed to spend money on some technology because it exists.  The wife factor is real and I can tell you that picking a movie from a list on the TV and watching instantly will win every time over another piece of equipment in the room and a huge space dedicated to physical media that we rarely if ever watch a second time.  I am leaning towards downloads and I think those with high speed access will make the same decision more than not…..

Met too

I’m a big big fan of music, and an audiophile to boot (I listen to music the way most people watch tv). The compelling factor for me is not having to put aside physical space for a library of thousands (in my case) of discs that is still, and almost certainly will continue to be, growing. I have found that 256kbps AAC is really pretty great on a high end system. I would imagin a true cinema enthusiast might feel the same. Make no mistake, this IS the future; the only question remaining is how soon it will arrive. Might be sooner than we think.

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