Blu-ray May be a Bag of Hurt, but it's Still an Attractive Bag

After Tuesdayis launch of the new MacBooks, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and Phil Schiller sat on high stools on stage to answer questions. Asked about Blu-ray, Mr. Jobs said, "You know, Blu-ray is a bag of hurt." Thatis probably more of a positioning statement for Apple products and strategy than a real indictment of the Blu-ray technology, and therein lies a problem.

Yesterday, Brad Brooks, corporate vice president, Windows Consumer Product Marketing, made at least one good point in his "Apple tax" extravaganza: PC buyers who want to engage in certain technologies, like Blu-ray, HDMI, eSATA external drives -- especially on their notebook computers -- face Apple as a gatekeeper.

There are several explanations for this continued approach by Apple:

  1. Hollywood is still playing games with Apple, withholding some rights, granting others when itis profitable for each studio. That failure by Apple to come to wide agreements is handled by a smoke screen of disparaging comments from Mr. Jobs.
  2. Mr. Jobs has a negative attitude about disc technology and simply wants to promote his own iTunes sales.
  3. Apple has some kind of new technology coming along, and advanced Apple TV perhaps combined with an HDTV display, and they donit want to undercut that effort, now in testing and market analysis.
  4. Apple just wants to stay focused on what they do best, and if anyone really wants Blu-ray, thatis a "Third Party Opportunity."

In the last three cases, Apple is a voluntary gatekeeper of the technology that keeps people from archiving data on portable, cheap 50 GB discs or watching Blu-ray movies that theyive purchased (from a rich collection) on their MacBooks.

I am aware of the fact that the Blu-ray industry has its share of problems. In recent times, some Blu-ray discs have refused to play on early generation Blu-ray players unless they had a firmware update. And some of those players didnit have Ethernet, requiring a tedious burn of a DVD and a manual upgrade. Thatis not consumer friendly, and itis pathetic compared to the coherent technology of DVDs.

Even so, the larger issue is that there are many companies fighting to sell you a box so that you can watch content on your HDTV, delivered on the Internet, within their own boundaries. The Netflix Roku box, the Sony Bravia Internet Connection, the Vudu box and the Apple TV all constrain the user to their particular content.

On the other hand, a Mac mini with DVI out and no HDCP is hardly a candidate to put DRMid content on the living roomis HDTV. Itis fine if one just wants to look at general content in SD or play DVDs.

This larger issue of getting any content on the Internet in any format displayed on the HDTV is a manipulation by the industry, and Iid like to see it change. So far, working behind the scenes, Apple has been unable to solve that convergence problem. I hope they do some day, and perhaps the DisplayPort is a start down that avenue.

In the meantime, those of us whoid like to ride a little further into the future, are served up a tasty dish of frustration and smoke screens, sans Blu-ray from Apple.

Wait. Did I mention that the new MacBooks announced today are really drool-worthy? They are. Some of us just drool in shades of aluminum and Blu.