I own the multimedia playing device called the WDTV from Western Digital. I love this thing. I first bought it for the Cowtown Film Series (in 2009) because I hate playing things off an optical disc at a screening in the movie theater. DVD’s and even Blu Rays have inherent flaws in that the videos are greatly compressed to fit on a disc. So you lose color, sharpness, and basic picture information before you blow it up on a giant movie screen. This seemed counter intuitive. So I found this little box that plays the video in full 1080P HD glory off of a hard drive and if needs be, even in surround sound.
Many people are musing about the future of optical discs because standard definition DVD is definitely on the natural decline. Sales in 2010 are down over 20% from 2008 at the same time. Blu Ray has not taken off as it was intended, mostly because of the economy being stressed, which is not a great time to launch a new format, especially under Sony’s guidance which means way more expensive without dropping in price. Another factor is that the saturation of HD TV’s into the home is merely catching up to the Blu Ray market, and even then the importance of picture quality is not weighing well against the idea of re-buying DVD collections.
The other factor oft-theorized as to why Blu Ray has not expanded is digital downloads and file-based distribution of movies. Netflix’s ever expanding Video On Demand service indicates that the market is going for this hard. Between 6PM and 8PM nightly, internet traffic heavily takes a beating from Netflix On Demand, which now includes HD content. Does their “HD” on demand look anywhere near as good as a Blu Ray? Hell No, but as has always been the case, convenience wins out often over quality.
Back to the media devices… The WDTV models now have YouTube and Netflix compatibility, meaning even without a Blu Ray player, you can access the Internet and watch movies and videos like this on your TV via a media player box. There is the APPLE TV for mac lovers and various other similar devices from so many manufacturers.
One of the things people claim prevent the demise of DVD and BLU RAY are the EXTRAS, bonus features, and behind the scenes clips. On this point, I agreed… until this past week. As my recent blog entry told, I loved this film called MONSTER. On the YouTubes, I found a bunch of videos in 720 and 1080 HD definition that could be downloaded via Mozilla Firefox to the MP4 file format, which my HDTV can play flawlessly. I can see it in full high definition on my TV, which means in an entirely file based world; I can have a movie and all the extras.
My prediction for the future is that everything will go file based because at the rapidity of change in file formats, image sizes, and standards, being more computer based will pave the way to handle those better than physical discs that are locked into one size and format. As for “extras”, those will be given away freely online with sites like YouTube or any site where they can be obtained for anyone who does want them, and keep the files on their own hard drive or ported to media players for TV. These bonus features also serve as perpetual EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits), promoting the movie as much as “added value”.
I find I’m moving my WDTV around from my bedroom to my screening room (the man-cave basement) to work. I find that looking at HD content on the computer to the 42″ TV versus playing it to the same 42″ with the WDTV I can say with a large margin the picture quality of video is substantially better from the media player box. The added surround sound output means that this is the best way to view file based videos.
This is the future. I like discs and I love the “collection” feel, but in 20 years no one will know what a disc is, much like high school kids may not know what a “video tape” is now.