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Happy Birthday Blu-ray!

27 Jun, 2016 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I’ve long felt that Blu-ray Disc hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves. Yes, it was birthed during a bruising format war, followed by the Great Recession. And in its adolescence it had to contend with a consumer rebellion against the buy-everything mentality that gripped the public during the halcyon days of DVD.

And yet Blu-ray Disc continued to grow, although its true upswing was obscured by the industry’s tendency to lump all packaged-media sales together, a move that softened DVD’s precipitous plunge but also hid the fact that even during Netflix’s meteoric rise Blu-ray Disc adoption continued to increase. In the first quarter of this year, Blu-ray Disc unit sales were up 3% from the previous year’s first quarter, while consumer spending rose 6%, according to Home Media Research estimates.

As it celebrates its 10th birthday, Blu-ray Disc has passed the $15 billion mark in consumer spending, which equates to nearly 750 million discs in the market.

If DVD was to home entertainment what the album Thriller was to Michael Jackson, then Blu-ray Disc is Bad. Thriller sold 65 million units worldwide, while Bad did about half that, 32 million units. Now, 32 million is certainly nothing to sneeze at; Bad was Jackson’s second-biggest seller and ranks as one of the 10 top-selling albums of all time.

But, it came after Thriller, and that was an exceptionally hard act to follow. The same can be said about DVD, the most successful consumer electronics product launch in history.

And yet DVD was, in some respects, a one-trick pony. It transitioned our business from rental to sellthrough, and turned millions of Americans into movie collectors — and yet capacity and resolution limits cut short its glory days with the advent of HD.

Blu-ray Disc, on the other hand, was designed to be future-proof from the very start, both on the software side, with its incredibly higher capacity than DVD, and on the hardware side, with consumer electronics companies wisely looking ahead and seeing a connected future. The Blu-ray Disc was smart a good year before the first iPhone; Blu-ray Disc players were connected at a time when skeptics were still wondering how to string an Ethernet cable into their family room.

As a result, Blu-ray Disc not only offered consumers the highest-quality high-definition viewing experience, but now makes the same boast for Ultra HD. Let the cable companies and streaming services talk up “4K” until they are blue in the face (pun intended); pick up an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, with High Dynamic Range, and you’ll see what’s passed off as “4K” is all too often a weak, and meek, pretender.

At the same time, Blu-ray Disc players are universally hailed as the best streaming machines in the business.

So happy birthday, Blu-ray Disc. You had some growing pains, and you were raised in the shadow of DVD, our industry’s “perfect child.” And yet while DVD flamed out, you’re blazing ahead as brightly as ever, a true technological marvel that is once again on the front lines of home entertainment.

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