They may not be ebony and ivory, but as I’ve said in the past, Blu-ray and video downloads can live together in perfect harmony. When I see people saying things like ‘Blu-ray is DOA’ because downloads will kill it, I tend to either snicker or roll my eyes, or both. Because, while I agree that someday downloads will probably kill off physical media, that day is years away. Many years. People point to music download services, like iTunes, as an example – and I’ll point out that the vast majority of music is still sold on physical media, and downloads have a long way to go before they kill CD. (I buy all of my music via download, CD is a last resort.) And video downloads are many times the size of music downloads.
With video downloads it is always a compromise between speed and quality. For instant gratification you have streaming video, but that’s the lowest quality. Broadband speed limitations restrict the maximum possible streaming bitrates. Downloads can offer higher bitrates, but still require fat pipes to be feasible, and, of course, storage. But even the best download services don’t come close to matching the picture quality of Blu-ray, because they can’t match the bitrates. And don’t even get into bonus features, lossless audio (Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD-MA), multiple audio and subtitle tracks, etc. With most commercial Blu-ray titles using between 30GB or more of disc capacity, we’re not going to be downloading content at that quality in the near future.
So I was a little gratified to see this article in CE Pro, entitled Blu-ray and Downloads: Why Both Are Worth Offering. CE Pro is an industry magazine with a primary audience of consumer electronics professionals, the kind of folks who install custom systems in high end homes. The article focuses on Blu-ray for physical media and VUDU for downloads, but Amazon Unbox on TiVo, iTunes on Apple TV, Xbox 360, PlayStation3, NetFlix, etc, are all possible broadband video options for the consumer. Downloads aren’t about to replace discs for those who prefer a quality viewing experience, but downloads offer the kind of instant gratification that discs can’t match. I think having both available is the best approach, the best of both worlds.