Will Apple Ever Support Blu-ray?

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.

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