The format war officially ended two years ago. Blu-Ray is the new standard of the land, every Wal-Mart and Best Buy has a dedicated Blu-Ray section, and prices are down to the point where the average person can afford them. So the question then becomes…do we actually need to care?
No, I’m serious. Set aside the automatic “but it’s an upgrade!” reaction that comes second nature to geeks. (I’m not saying I don’t have it too. I have a Blu-Ray player, and I don’t even have a hi-def TV to watch the discs on. Long story.) I’m asking whether we actually need a new format, now or ever. Sure, the picture quality is better. Put two TVs side by side, one playing a DVD and the other playing a Blu-Ray DVD, and people will be able to tell which one is which. But it’s not the same as the difference between VHS and DVD. It’s not between “okay” and “amazing”, it’s between “amazing” and “near-perfect”.
Do we need “near-perfect”, though? Already, some films are having problems being converted to Blu-Ray because the format is so perfect that you can see imperfections in the film used to shoot the original master edition. The differences are so small as to be almost subliminal. DVD is immersive enough; Blu-Ray improves, but can you put a dollar amount on the exact improvement…and more importantly, is that dollar amount equal to the difference in price between DVD and Blu-Ray?
Perhaps I have a slightly different perspective on this than some fans, because I’m a Doctor Who fan. We get our series one story at a time, eight stories a year, and there are twenty-six years of stories to go through. It took them almost literally the entire life of the format to release all the existing episodes of the classic series on VHS, and by the time they put out the last one (“Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, if memory serves me right) they’d already started putting out the DVDs. Which means I’m very familiar…perhaps uncomfortably familiar…with buying the same thing twice.
As a result, I can’t help but think that Blu-Ray is mostly–not entirely, but mostly–a way to get you to buy the same thing three times. Let’s face it; at a certain point, even the best movie stops making money for the studio, because the market’s saturated. Everyone already has it. The only solution is to find a new way to repackage it, so you’ll buy it twice. And improvements in technology are a remarkably convenient way to do that. And, to get back to the question at the beginning, the question in the title…at what point does the improvement become incremental enough, insignificant enough, that it’s not worth buying into the new format? Is Blu-Ray that point?
Oh, I should have mentioned at the beginning, this is one of those columns where I don’t actually have an answer. (Except for myself, of course. I have one Blu-Ray disc, and I got it as a gift. The player was on sale for cheap. I won’t buy any DVD over ten bucks anymore…after all, I’ve got plenty to watch, and the prices always come down eventually. For me, market saturation’s a big saver!)