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Summary:

I got into a teeny Twitter debate during the holiday weekend over buying a Blu-ray player. I’ve been firmly against physical formats for awhile now, preferring the simplicity and elegance of over-the-top streaming delivered by the likes of Roku, Xbox, and even widget-enabled TVs themselves. But […]

I got into a teeny Twitter debate during the holiday weekend over buying a Blu-ray player. I’ve been firmly against physical formats for awhile now, preferring the simplicity and elegance of over-the-top streaming delivered by the likes of Roku, Xbox, and even widget-enabled TVs themselves. But Blu-ray player prices have dropped like a stone and finding a decent movie to stream on Thanksgiving was surprisingly a hassle, so I’m starting to reconsider my harsh anti-DVD stance, and am wondering whether you’re getting one this holiday season.

First, I’m not a hardcore cinephile with a high-end home theater system, so I’m not as worried about high-tech specs and codecs and getting the absolute most pristine picture. I’ve been reluctant to pick up a Blu-ray player because the whole video industry is moving to direct, over-the-top streaming soon enough. Why junk up the house with one more gadget that’s just going to wind up in a landfill? (Our sister site Earth2Tech would be so proud.)

According to Retrevo, 14 percent of consumers were looking to buy a Blu-ray player over the Thanksgiving shopping holiday. That, no doubt, is being spurred by how cheap Blu-ray players have gotten, with top brands going for roughly $130. That’s the same as the Roku XR, and those Blu-ray players come with Netflix streaming as well. The format has established itself, so there’s little risk it will disappear quickly.

The real kicker for me was trying to find decent movies to stream over the holiday break. While the Netflix catalog is growing, the streaming options are still packed with a bunch of stinkers. And because the Hollywood studios are being such jerks about keeping DVDs on life support — many of the new releases weren’t available on Amazon VOD (no Up, no Star Trek, etc.). And that’s a problem that won’t be going away any time soon as studios look to wring every last dollar out of the physical formats that they can.

This could just be the eggnog talking, but given all that, is it time to just cave and get a Blu-ray player? It’ll be cheap, it will let me still stream Netflix and I’ll have access to new releases (hopefully). What do you think? Is a Blu-ray player on your holiday wish list? If so, how come?

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  1. I don’t see “the whole video industry…moving to direct, over-the-top streaming” for another 5-7 years at least. The quality just isn’t there. Netflix “HD” streaming is barely DVD quality, and doesn’t even touch actual HD, let alone Blu-Ray quality. It won’t for quite some time either, the bandwidth just isn’t there for streaming 1080p content, and the external storage necessary is still too expensive for downloads (though that’s always the quicker to change than bandwidth.)

    For anyone else who cares about quality (or anyone who needs to justify several thousand dollars spent on their television) Blu-Ray is the only real choice. You don’t even need to be a “hardcore cinefile,” you just have to dislike blocky compression artifacts.

    I like Netflix for the convenience and choices, and I like that I can stream many films (almost) instantly, but when the standard streams look – there’s no other way to say this – like shit, and the HD streams can best be described as “passable,” I’m going to keep buying or renting the movies I care about actually seeing on BR.

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    1. Chris Albrecht Monday, November 30, 2009

      Thanks, Barrett,

      Have you tried the 1080p streaming from Xbox?

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      1. I have not, unfortunately. I’d like to though. I’m curious to see how good the 1080p is, and whether it’s upscaled or true 1080p, and what type of compression artifacts exist.

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      2. My sense is that it’s 1080p, but a lower bandwidth compressed 1080p because streaming a full Blu-ray quality film over anything less than Fios would be tough. But as I said, I’m ignorant on this service, but I’d like to check it out.

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    2. Barrett,

      I’m not sure I agree with this. Consumers have shown time and time again that in most cases, they value convenience over quality. The mobile phone market is a great example — millions are using mobile phones for their primary, and sometimes their only, phone service. I foresee digital video the same way: as soon as it’s easy enough to connect to a service like Netflix or buy movies from Vudu or Amazon on Demand directly from the device, the need for physical media (for the most part) disappears.

      Will consumers be willing to give up the quality of Blu-ray purchases or rentals if they can get “good enough” quality from the comfort of their own living room? I think it’s a good bet that they will do so.

      Personally, I think a Blu-ray player is a pretty superfluous device, especially for someone like Chris, who already has more than one piece of hardware with multiple types of subscription of pay-per-view programming available for streaming. Why buy another device as a gateway to Netflix, when you have two or three other devices with Netflix streaming already built in?

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      1. I’d argue that mobile phones are a higher quality experience though, not just a higher convenience one. Communication is experience with phones, and before texting, apps, or mobile web, the experience of not missing calls was the paramount driver of car and mobile phone marketshare.

        “Good enough” is a powerful argument, as is “you’ll never see the difference,” but while that worked for itunes, I don’t think that will work with films. The difference is that most people buying a music device were spending 100 bucks or so (there were outliers but I said “most”) but most people buying TVs are spending 500-2.5k dollars on something sold under the guise of quality, not convenience. Walkman and iPod? Convenience. Sony’s not advertising the “most convenient” Bravia set on the market though, they’re advertising the “absolute highest quality, full HD, etc” set on the market. That’s a very powerful reason to feed it the highest quality material as well, if not to “show off” then to self-justify.

        I’m not familiar with Chris’ arsenal of audio/visual gear, but I can sympathize with the desire to have fewer devices that do more. I have a wii, a PS3, and my cable box (plus the requisite 5.1 system.) With those three devices I can watch Blu-rays, stream netflix, watch youtube, or stream almost any video on my computer direct to the TV. When I really care about a film though, there’s no question that the Blu-Ray is the format I’m choosing. It’s just…better.

        I’ll concede that I might be the minority (I like director’s commentary too, and went to film school) but there’s a reason HDTVs are selling well, and there’s a reason DirecTV and Dish argue over who’s got the highest quality stream: people care about it.

        I also forsee digital video the same way you do: “as soon as it’s easy enough to connect to a service like Netflix or buy movies from Vudu or Amazon on Demand directly from the device, the need for physical media (for the most part) disappears.” I just don’t think it happens as soon as we’d like. The broadband infrastructure in the US is too stilted, and the storage for Blu-Ray quality anything but streaming or self-destructing rentals quickly becomes expensive. The storage issue will go away more quickly, but if the lawsuits, net neutrality arguments, and feet-dragging with updating aging copper infrastructure are any indications, we’re not going to see the type of necessary advancements in Bandwidth for a while.

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      2. That ended up a lot longer than I anticipated, sorry for dropping an essay into your comment thread…

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  2. I’m with you, Chris. Even though I do have HDTV’s at home, I don’t really feel any need to buy a Blu-Ray player. Even without streaming, there’s so much more DVD content out there than Blu-Ray content that it’s just more convenient (and cheaper) to stick with DVD’s. Yeah, yeah…Blu-Ray looks more bright and shiny, but personally I find that not everything looks necessarily better when it’s THAT bright and shiny.

    There’s my 2 cents. :)

    Cheers!

    Druu
    Bite Me TV

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  3. I haven’t taken the Blu-ray plunge yet but I’m planning on buying one sometime this year. I’ll be looking for one that supports as many streaming services as possible with Netflix the minimum and VUDU and Pandora high on the list. I don’t think I’ll have to spend more than $200 or so. The LG390 looks better than the 370 and supports Pandora but costs a little more. I’ll be interested in seeing what is introduced at CES this year.

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  4. @Barrett: 5-7 years? it is moving to direct already albeit very very slowly. I think the time frame will be much quicker than that. As far picture quality I get HD 75-90% of the time on my roku but do have good dsl (7 mbs) and it also depends on what you watch as some of the shows/movies on netflix’s instant watching list arent hd yet.

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    1. I have good cable (7MB) as well. I don’t have a Roku so I can’t speak to that, but Netflix is (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong here) the dominant player in the marketplace, and their HD streams are just above DVD quality. Technically HD, but not even 720p let alone 1080p at Blu-Ray quality. As I said above, I don’t think it’s a hardware issue, I think it’s a broadband infrastructure issue. It’s just not going to be there on a large-scale for quite some time.

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  5. I plan to split the difference – meaning, buy a cheap Blu-ray player, but draw the line at purchasing any Blu-Ray discs. They’ll all be rented through Netflix. Then when the industry finally catches up and gets with HD streaming, I’ll only add a player to the landfill and not additionally a pile of discs.

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    1. Chris Albrecht Monday, November 30, 2009

      I’m definitely with you on not buying DVDs any more. Ugh. What a pain.

      It’s definitely an infrastructure issue (not something I wanted to get into in the post). But it’s also a Hollywood issue. I don’t mind a less-than-pristine picture, and I’m all for paying for content. I just want the new releases when they are, you know, new.

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  6. Don’t forget about how the other quarter of the population lives. I know there millions of people that watch movies on their boats, motor homes, Farmers, and summer homes in remote locations. It’s difficult to get a POTS land line to our boats and motor homes little lone internet or cable tv. Many of us get our entertainment with DVDs, wireless internet, and terrestrial TV.
    Now with the invention of LED TV’s that use less electricity, one can watch many hours of tv and a few movies running on solar or wind power. The picture is amazing on this tvs when used with a blu-ray player.
    So your idea of being against a hard format is best for densely populated city dwellers that have access to high speed internet that is easily obtained. You guys have no reason to use hard format entertainment.

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  7. I prefer Blu(-ray) rips played via the WDTV Live (or Popcorn Hour, if you want to spend more)

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  8. I am a Netflix customer and just ordered a Blu-Ray player (Panasonic BD60, $130) that doesn’t have Netflix access. The main reason I purchased a player (and this model specifically) is picture quality. In the near term, Netflix mail will be my primary source because of the inferior selection and picture quality of streaming. Only when Netflix streaming improves significantly in quality and selection will I migrate to it. My guess is it won’t be for a few years, and the hardware I can get at that time to access it will be much improved as well.

    Also playing into my decision to go without streaming is that I kind of like having the days when no discs are at home to spend time on other things like family, friends, reading, etc. Not sure what I’m going to do when everything’s available immediately. It will take a lot of discipline to unplug!

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  10. [...] players. Over the next few years, the addition of broadband video services to Blu-ray players, coupled with lower prices, should make the devices a good value for consumers, compared with broadband-enabled TVs, which are [...]

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