Entertainment Geekly: Is Blu-ray Living Up To Its HD Promise?

blu-ray feature.jpgIt's been well over a year since the Blu-ray army stood over the vanquished HD DVD foe, the ground splattered with the remains of Toshiba's golden child and the sun setting on yet another format war. But has Blu-ray stepped up to take its place as the rightful HD heir to the home entertainment throne? Looking back, it's easy to see that Blu-ray was always going to win the format war. I mean, one company - Toshiba - up against the combined might of Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Sharp, Sanyo, Samsung and others? That's like you, back at school, picking a fight against the entire 1st XV rugby team - suicide. The problem with the whole decision is that because there were so many influential parties involved with the creation of Blu-ray, the specifications weren't exactly set in stone when the technology launched, unlike HD DVD, which had its standards set in stone from day one.

That's why in the early days after HD DVD's defeat, there was still so much confusion over Blu-ray. Profile 1.0, Final Profile 1.1 and Full Profile 2.0 are the most glaring examples of an incomplete technology that had corporate, rather than consumer's interests at heart. It's no wonder that there was such an outcry to consumers that it wasn't safe to buy Blu-ray straight after HD DVD's demise.

And in the first half of 2008, nothing changed. All the major players released hardware that was BD Profile 1.1 compliant, but nothing that could handle the extra online goodies that BD Profile 2.0 offered. Well, nothing except the PS3 which stood head and shoulders above all other Blu-ray players on the market. The worst part was that we knew the BD-Live capable players were coming, and so we waited, and waited...

Eventually, the fully specced Blu-ray players hit shelves in the second half of last year, to a decidedly underwhelming response. The reasons were plentiful, but let's just say that the BD-Live content on offer wasn't exactly appealing. Sure, Paramount's servers crashed with the weight of thousands of Iron Man nerds trying to check out the Iron Man BD Live content, but it was a shortlived success. Some studios haven't even bothered with any BD-Live content in Australia as yet, and some don't think that there's any appeal at all.

But BD-Live is but one feature of a Blu-ray release. Straight after Blu-ray's victory over HD DVD, one of the things we thought would be necessary as a key driver for the technology was the release of some truly great films and film sets. Movies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix or Indiana Jones. So far, of those sets, only The Matrix has been released on Blu-ray. But there has been some improvement in back catalogue releases. Last month, for example, saw the release of Disney classic Pinocchio, plus all the heritage Batman films. Later this month we'll see the release of the first six Star Trek films as well, and while they aren't quite in the league of Lord of the Rings (unless you're a Trekkie), they show a growing trend for the film studios to release back catalogue films that people actually want.

Price, however, remains an issue. Not just for the players, which have come down to the $450 RRP mark, and are expected to drop to under $200 by Christmas. But also the films themselves. While many films have an RRP of $15-$20 on DVD, the Blu-ray version can sell for $40-$50, a price increase that is seriously impacting the format's success. Fortunately, there are many retailers, both online and in store, with regular deals on movies which can go as low as $25 each. Sure, there's still a premium, but at least it's not an offensive premium.

Still despite all this, the market seems to be swinging in Blu-ray's favour. Thanks to some big new releases (Iron Man and The Dark Knight, anyone?) and the dropping price of Blu-ray players, the takeup of the next-gen format is actually comparable to DVD two years into its launch, with more than 450,000 Blu-ray players (including PS3s) and over 750,000 Blu-ray movies sold (according to Sony back in March). They're some pretty decent numbers for a new technology.

And what will the future hold for Blu-ray? Well, we'll talk about that in next week's Entertainment Geekly...