Last week, while visiting Criterion Collection headquarters to observe their transition to Blu-ray, I brought up the subject of digital downloads. To my surprise, they let slip a little detail that sheds light on how a master disc maker like Criterion will manage in an all-download future.
As we've seen, even "HD" digital downloads are far from the quality of Blu-ray, so there's a hesitance to offer up their restorations in a format that doesn't live up to their very high standards. Lee Kline, Criterion's Technical Director says "I would be depressed if we just went from standard-def DVDs to standard-def downloads."
David Phillips, who works in DVD development at Criterion, explained further:
When you're talking about a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, you're talking about 50GB of data. Now, a lot of our films might not necessarily take up all that space, but even if they're taking up 25GB on a single layer disc, you're still talking about a heck of a lot of data to download. Now, the way that broadband infrastructure is in this country, any films you're downloading aren't going to have the data rate or resolution of Blu-ray.
When you work on the mastering part of it and the restoration and you see how good that image looks, it's really hard to say, OK, we're going to squash this down to the point where it'll fit through everybody's pipe.
However, according to Kline, digital downloads are on Criterion's radar.
We're pretty close to figuring out what we want to do with downloading, and I think our new website will cover that, which you'll see in a few months. I don't want to give any details yet, but we're not dismissing that as a viable option right now. But until it's faster and we're sure that we're going to give people a download that works in an acceptable amount of time, we'll go there when we need to go there. We're not scared of it, but we're also not ready to do it yet.
There'll be some sort of downloading and some sort of information regarding... OK, I'm going to stop, I'm giving away too much.
My guess is that there will be downloading of some sort, but it may or may not be full films. Who knows? Maybe it will be short scenes from classic movies, shown at higher-than-ever-before bitrates.
Would you be interested in downloading Criterion's restorations even if the quality wasn't that great? Or does that kind of go against everything that Criterion is about?