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Summary:

With the latest version of Final Cut Studio hot off the shelves, many are scratching their heads over what Apple’s take on the future of DVDs actually may be. DVD Studio Pro hasn’t received a major update since the 4.0 release at NAB 2005, and iDVD […]

Apple Blu-ray Disc

With the latest version of Final Cut Studio hot off the shelves, many are scratching their heads over what Apple’s take on the future of DVDs actually may be. DVD Studio Pro hasn’t received a major update since the 4.0 release at NAB 2005, and iDVD hasn’t been updated since 2007, so is the DVD dead?

Well, that conversation has come up plenty of times before, and it always seems like the pundits are waiting for the next version of Final Cut Studio or iLife before voicing their thoughts on whether DVD production is seeing its curtain call.

Many insist that optical discs are dying on the Mac. The supporting arguments are there. The Apple TV features no optical drive, and neither does the MacBook Air. Apple has referred to Blu-ray as “a bag of hurt” and hasn’t made any obvious plans to endorse the standard any further. The only mention of “next generation” technologies is some support for HD-DVDs in DVD Studio Pro (been there for ages) and limited Blu-ray support in the latest version of Compressor.

What a lot of people fail to realize when considering why Apple hasn’t made a huge foray into the Blu-ray world, is just how different Blu-rays are from DVDs (in terms of functionality). DVD Studio Pro aims to allow professionals to create DVDs with all the great features that DVDs offer (menus, subtitles, multiple angles, multiple audio tracks, etc.). When you consider the advantages that Blu-ray brings to the table, such as support for Internet-enabled content, seamless branching, access to local storage, and so on, it’s clear that a minor update to a software title isn’t really going to break new ground in this area. Designing a tool to author these takes time. The current competition, Adobe Encore, is a great tool, but still can’t take advantage of some of the more advanced Java-related Blu-ray features. Apple needs to at least meet the current feature set of Encore to stay competitive. The company has already invested a lot of time, energy and money into the video industry with its growth of Final Cut Studio.

To say Apple is forgoing on optical media altogether would be to say it’s slowly, but surely, bowing out of the video market altogether — and nobody in their right mind would believe that is the case.

Regarding hardware, Apple realizes that most people already have some type of optical disc player in their living room, so why should an Apple TV include one? They serve different functions, just like an Apple TV isn’t going to replace your cable box or satellite receiver. (DVR on the other hand? Well, not yet anyway.) Sure, it would be nice for an Apple TV to include a Blu-ray drive, but if Apple had already included it when it first started shipping these a few years ago, it would be facing an even larger uphill battle for adoption (a la Sony and its Playstation 3).

And the MacBook Air? I’m seriously amazed at those who see a lack of optical drive in these portables as an indication that Apple is ditching the format altogether. Apple wanted to make a statement with the slimness of the portable, and it felt users of this product did not use optical discs on a regular basis. It was a smart trade-off, but hardly an indication that optical drives will start disappearing from other Macs.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s to not listen to Apple when it “writes off” technologies in its shareholder meetings. Though the company has referred to Blu-ray as a “bag of hurt” in the past, it sits on the Board of Directors of the Blu-ray Disc Association. Apple is a huge proponent of high definition (who wouldn’t be at this point?) and, as such, it realizes that more and more people are shooting in HD and need a way to present that. We’ve discussed before the limitations of the iPod and iPhone platforms as they do not support HD content, and even the Apple TV is limited in this regard. What other solution is there? YouTube? While that’s a great start, Apple is totally aware that people still prefer to have something a bit more portable and higher quality than YouTube.

My personal opinion is that Apple is working on developing Blu-ray authoring solutions (as well as inclusion of Blu-ray drives as the price continues to come down). We’ve seen a small taste of this support in the latest version of Compressor; hints of Blu-ray support in the latest version of iTunes; and I think as time goes on, we will see more support in other apps as well. In the meantime, DVD Studio Pro and iDVD will likely stay right where they are at. It’s easy to develop new themes for these apps, but why split your resources if you’re focusing on some whizz-bang, new app for Blu-ray authoring? In their current states, these applications are quite maxed out for now.

  1. Don’t forget that Apple is on the Board of Directors of the Blu-Ray Disc Association (see http://www.blu-raydisc.com/en/about/SupportingCompanies.html ). So they certainly haven’t closed the door on supporting Blu-Ray in some meaningful way.

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    1. Errr, we specifically mentioned that in the article:
      “Though the company has referred to Blu-ray as a “bag of hurt” in the past, it sits on the Board of Directors of the Blu-ray Disc Association.”

      :)

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  2. Keep in mind that just last year (2008), Apple was in talks with Sony to put a Blu-Ray writer in their Macbook Pro models: http://bit.ly/nVMvo
    This was ultimately dropped as Sony was not going to meet Apple’s price point or the fact that they were not willing to offer Blu-Ray burners to Apple at the time, so I suspect that Apple will be offering Blu-Ray buners on their next round of refresh when Sony finally drops the pricing and offer them to Apple.

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  3. The only bag of “hurt” that Apple had with Blu-Ray was the one on their wallets to get the Blu-Ray burner into their laptops

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  4. I think Apple is most likely using this as a bargaining chip. I had a friend work for Sony Europe and he had told me that the reason the Apple TV was always shown with a Bravia set was something to do with a contra deal involving Blu-ray

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  5. Between the movie studios and Microsoft, the bar that Apple needs to clear for ‘permission’ to implement playing BluRay content is crazy. All drivers would need to be signed and verified by Apple to not have any backdoors. New drivers for EVERYTHING (not just things directly part of either the audio or video paths) need to add ‘checks’ that the hardware hasn’t been hacked 30 times a second. The connection between the video chip and the INTERNAL LCD on iMacs and MacBooks needs to be encrypted.

    This isn’t cheap for either Apple, 3rd party developers OR consumers.

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    1. Almost all computers that have LCD use LVDS for the final connection. Laptops (iMac included since it is a laptop parts) use the same signaling. So Apple doesn’t need to encrypt the signal between the video card and the LCD because no one else does over LVDS. unless they are doing some hacky internal DVI->DVI->LVDS business.

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  6. All Apple products (except the Mac Pro) with optical drives use a 9.5mm-tall slot-load SATA laptop drives. There is no Blu-ray drive in production that will fit in a Mac; most are 12mm-tall and/or tray-load. As others have mentioned, once hardware of the right design and price is available, we’ll probably see it in Apple products. Until then, Blu-ray will remain Windows-exclusive.

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  7. Optical media didn’t pan out… The discs are not robust (as anyone who subscribes to Netflix can attest) and you cannot trust that what you saved on a disc will be there when you get back to retrieving it. As for dives on a laptop, optical drives are gangly and annoying power hogs and unnecessary. Give me a laptop with no moving parts at all, not even a fan!

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  8. I really don’t believe blu-ray will become as common as dvd. Not for watching movies (downloading / streaming them is becoming more common) and neither for sharing your own creations.

    You can store your own video creations on a portable HD or USB stick and watch it by plugging straight into your media system’s usb port or connecting your laptop directly to your tv. Or you can upload HD video to a service like Vimeo.

    Why would the average consumer still want to burn something on a disc?

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    1. Why? Some of us live in the sticks with poor internet connections. HD video doesn’t work well on country broadband.

      HD video takes up lots of space. What happens when that disk crashes? Do we all need multi-terabyte RAID arrays in our house?

      Flash memory may be stable but it’s too expensive to hold hour and hours of family video in HD quality.

      I need cheep, relatively stable storage that lasts. As soon as 4.6gb USB sticks are only 20 cents, then yes.. that would be a good alternative.

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  9. > The only bag of “hurt” that Apple had with Blu-Ray was the one on their wallets to get the Blu-Ray burner into their laptops

    I think Apple also refered to the quasi impossibility to implement the Blu-Ray protections without seriously damaging the operating system stability and performance. Microsoft has done those sacrifices on Vista with the sucess we know (both in term of OS performance and in term of the media still being crackable).

    > There is no Blu-ray drive in production that will fit in a Mac.

    I believe that if Apple asks nicely to some vendors to start making a Blu-Ray drive with appropriate specs for inclusion in Macs, those vendors will start doing it.

    > I really don’t believe blu-ray will become as common as dvd.

    I Paris, France, the Blu-Ray sections of video retailers has already managed to eat 10% of shelf space over DVD… and the trend will get even more visible for Christmas sales, as decent Blu-Ray players below the $100 price-mark will be available.

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  10. [...] Here is the original post:  Will Apple Ever Support bBlu-ray/b? [...]

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