Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Back From The Future

One of the rules in my challenge is that I have to watch each film on DVD. While this means that some films will not be viewed to their full potential - new films will lose some advantage on the technological front - it evens the playing field between the movies.

The other reason for this is that currently - apart from on my computer - I don't own a Blu-ray player. That's right, I never bought a Playstation3 and never jumped on the bandwagon following that. DVDs have just always been adequate for me.

What about the future?

Some people, like my brother, think that hardware will be removed from the equation and movies will be either downloaded or streamed directly from the Internet.

Panasonic's Internet Enabled Television
This makes perfect sense - with increasing broadband speeds (at a seemingly slower pace in the UK), downloading films in the future would be a quick and easy way to get movies. In fact, iTunes - the largest distributor of digital goods - has been distributing films over its network since 2007.

Downloading media has been popularised in the gaming sector already with all the major players (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and Apple) all offering downloadable games for their respective consoles. Unfortunately, because of the limitations on download size and storage, these games - while often being very clever and quirky -are often shortened versions of a much better game. This demonstrates what could happen in the movie market with the new Internet-enabled televisions.

As for streaming movies, this has one huge benefit - space saving. Movies do not need to be downloaded and this will save the consumer memory for arguably more important information such as family photographs and personal videos. Again though, this can come with its negatives as if the Internet connection is cut mid-film then this can leave the consumer watching a film with an unintended cliff hanger.

What other solutions are there?

Next-next generation HVD alongside a current generation DVD
Blu-ray at present is a perfectly acceptable solution. It is able to hold all High Definition movies and their extras with ease, and now that the price has come down as the research and development costs have been recouped and the market is more competitive, it is easier than ever for consumers to buy Blu-ray.

Many distributors are now offering consumers the chance to buy a "Triple Pack" which includes a Blu-ray disc, DVD and a downloadable version. As well as giving their customers a chance to future-proof themselves - for example, if they don't have a Blu-ray player yet - it also gives them a chance to test how popular movie downloading is becoming by logging each download.

Again however, all this mention of Blu-ray is still just current technology. Luckily however, there is a new type of disc which has had its standards set for a couple of years - Holographic Versatile Disc, or HVD. While this may sound impressive, there will be no Star Wars-esque holographic scenes just yet - HVD just describes how the disc is read by a special type of light.

While no manufacturers have yet to actually create a HVD player for the commercial market, it is still being touted as the next generation of discs because of the sheer quantity of data that it can hold. At 20 times the size of a Blu-ray disc, HVDs have a huge capacity advantage over the current "next-generation". In fact, it would take just six HVDs to hold the entire US Library of Congress in text format and it would take just two to picture every landmass on earth, similarly to Google Earth.

Unfortunately, technology like this comes at a price. It was estimated at the end of 2006 that an HVD may cost up to $160 (£100) and the player could be up to 100 times that. That said, it wasn't long ago that we were all using tape recorders and many manufacturers hope to break into HVD format by 2019.

Waiting for Saw 29 to download
Downloads or Hardware?

As for deciding between whether we will all be drones sitting at a computer waiting for a movie to download, or whether we will be jumping in our electric cars to pick up Saw 29 on HVD, it remains to be seen. My betting is that it all comes down to the direction of the popular gaming market which saw Blu-ray snatch victory from HD-DVD four years ago.


  1. Interesting. I'm not a gamer, so I didn't know how important gaming was re. Blu-Ray v. HD-DVD.

    Maybe with the move towards netbooks, smartphones, and tablets (none of which have built-in optical drives), downloading will win out.

    Personally, I am tired of the constant need to update home video media. I already sold all my VHS tapes and replaced them with DVDs. I have not yet bought a Blu-Ray player, because, although it has less compression than DVD, the video is compressed. Plus, I don't want to buy a Blu-Ray collection only to have to replace it with HVD or whatever comes next. But I love physical media (discs, books, newspapers) and will continue to consume media in that way as long as I can.

    Maybe HVD will offer uncompressed video in the future - but on the other hand, will the film studios really ever be prepared to sell uncompressed versions of their films? It would be equivalent to selling mass-market copies of the original negative, enabling perfect copies to be made. I think that, as long as cinemas continue, studios will not support ultra-high-definition discs. But eventually, if most people stop going to the cinema - and I hope that will never happen - studios might produce ultra-high-definition discs/downloads.


  2. Yes, with the rise of the Blu-ray enabled Playstation3 came the inevitable demise of the HD-DVD. When companies were charging over £200 for an HD-DVD player, the Playstation3 gave each of its users one for free. Despite the £400+ price, its loyal fans took up the latest Playstation a lot faster than the masses took up HD-DVD players.

    I'm with you. I much prefer having a hard copy of something. It feels much more reassuring that instead of screaming at my computer to boot up, it works much faster when I can just place the disc calmly in the DVD player. That said, I prefer downloaded music because it all gets put onto my iPod anyway.

    As I said in my previous "Is Cinema Still Worthy Of A First Date" post, I hope people continue to go to the cinema. If it gets to the point where everyone is mindlessly downloading movies, we could see a huge social shift. With home-delivered groceries, online social networks, downloaded media, Google Earth and "exercise" video games, why would anyone need to leave the house any more?

  3. "Why would anyone need to leave the house" - that was precisely the argument people made 15 years ago about the "information superhighway" (as it was known then). I think we'll still go out, if only to take photos to upload to Facebook!

    I can see the appeal of the Playstation 3 vs. a dedicated HD-DVD player.