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Summary:

Steve thinks that with a Time Capsule or an online backup system paired with YouTube for sharing video and iTunes at the center of it all with media consumption, the industry has made Blu-ray obsolete before it even makes it to Mac machines and I agree.

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Ever since 2008 when Blu-ray and HD-DVD were battling for consumer mind share, Mac users have been speculating about Apple’s next optical drive technology. Since 2001, SuperDrive has been Apple’s name for DVD and CD burning optical drives built into or available in every Mac sold, and now SuperDrive is standard but Apple doesn’t mention it anymore because it’s not that big of a deal to include in Macs. Almost every PC manufactured today has this.

The MacBook Air was released in 2008 with no optical drive, which started a flurry of rumors about Apple’s thoughts on where we were going as Apple mentioned the irrelevance of optical drives since content was available via iTunes and the web and you only needed one for installing software since even backups could be done over the air with Time Capsule. Apple still sells a $99 USB SuperDrive for the MacBook Air for people who need one. As a Macbook Air owner, I have never needed one since all of my software was installed via the web and all consumable content (movies, music and podcasts) are all available in iTunes.

The two most notable technology visionaries of our time, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, have both weighed in on Blu-ray since it became the standard physical media for  high-definition content so I thought it would be beneficial to provide their quotes here before I give a bit of my thoughts.

Bill Gates gave two very powerful quotes on the subject. The first:

“Well, the key issue here is that the protection scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there’s not much visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers [sic] and it won’t work well on PCs. You won’t be able to play movies and do software in a flexible way.”

and:

“For us it’s not the physical format. Understand that this is the last physical format there will ever be. Everything’s going to be streamed directly or on a hard disk. So, in this way, it’s even unclear how much this one counts.”

[inline-ad align="right"]The note of it being anti-consumer is frankly a matter for any digital content these days. Movie studios will have their DRM on any future media that they control whether you get that content from Microsoft, Apple or built into a disk that you put into a dedicated player. DRM is the current reality unless you pirate it, but Gates’ comment about Blu-ray being the last physical media is very important. Gates actually said this in 2005. Yes, five years ago. Gates said this long before YouTube was a house hold name and at a time when the iPod with video was a brand new product and before the Apple TV. Of course, Microsoft had its home theater software built into Windows XP, but if you look at how we consume media today, it’s apparent that he was on to something.

Then, in October 2008, Steve Jobs gave his thoughts on Blu-ray with one line:

“Blu-ray is just a bag of hurt. It’s great to watch the movies, but the licensing of the tech is so complex, we’re waiting till things settle down and Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace.”

Of course, Blu-ray has taken off in the marketplace but Steve hasn’t changed his tone very much in the last year and a half. An email response from Steve Jobs last week mirrors Bill Gates’ comment in 2005 and reiterates Apple’s stance on Blu-ray and pretty much sums up why we’ll never see the technology included in future Macs:

“Blu-ray is looking more and more like one of the high end audio formats that appeared as the successor to the CD — like it will be beaten by Internet downloadable formats.”

After the customer sends an email response to him again stating Blu-ray has a purpose for use of system backups and high-density storage or the distribution of home movies Steve adds:

“No, free, instant gratification and convenience (likely in that order) is what made the downloadable formats take off. And the downloadable movie business is rapidly moving to free (Hulu) or rentals (iTunes) so storing purchased movies or TV shows is not an issue.

“I think you may be wrong — we may see a fast broad move to streamed free and rental content at sufficient quality (at least 720p) to win almost everyone over.”

The rise in broadband speeds paired with the fact that you can download a movie anywhere in the world (with a cell phone connection) to your mobile device and it’s clear that Steve simply doesn’t see a point in Blu-ray being included given the complications of licensing it and echoing sentiment into Bill Gates’ opinions of DRM via the new format.

Steve thinks that with a Time Capsule or an online backup system (like SugarSync and Mozy) paired with YouTube for sharing video and iTunes at the center of it all with media consumption, the industry has made Blu-ray obsolete before it even makes it to Mac machines and I agree.

I once thought Blu-ray was a key addition to have on my Mac and now that I have a Mac without an optical drive, I don’t miss it. Everything I own is synced to my iMac and MacBook Air over the web in real-time, my iPhone and iPad can purchase movies and they download over the air and I can share a movie with my family that I shot and edited on iPhone 4 and uploaded to YouTube within one hour compared to burning and shipping a Blu-ray disk to them. Blu-ray is something a lot of pros want but it’s out of desire and not true need.

I’m not a professional filmmaker and I’m not working for a movie studio, but DVD Studio Pro and products like Toast from Roxio support Blu-ray if you buy a drive separately and plug it into your Mac. Apple just won’t be shipping support for the technology anytime soon and it may never include it in its machines and I bet that most consumers are okay with that.

  1. My gripe is that what Steve is peddling (highly compressed 480p and 720p video and compressed audio) is accepted as “good enough”.

    I’m sorry, but a 448k Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and highly compressed 720p video doesn’t come anywhere close to the high bitrate 1080p video and loseless audio that comes on Blu-ray.

    Further, it will be many years before there is enough bandwidth to stream this sort of quality in near realtime.

    The reason Steve doesn’t want to support Blu-ray is because it means less money for Apple and the iTunes Store.

    I, for one, will stick with Blu-ray, especially when you consider how many titles come with a version that’s compatible with iPod, iPad, and AppleTV at no extra cost.

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    1. But really, what Steve is peddling here is in fact good enough for the large majority…which is who they’re after.

      iTunes doesn’t offer lossless files for music downloads, because the large majority of customers don’t care. So why would Apple start offering movies in a lossless format when, again, the majority don’t care?

      Offering more download options (SD, HD, Lossless, etc etc) is bad from a usability stand point and Apple doesn’t really stand to gain anything from it.

      Of course Steve won’t support Blu-ray if it’s a bad business move (financially or otherwise)…why would you expect anything less?

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    2. Actually it is good enough for most people who aren’t obsessed with or even aware of things like bitrates.

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    3. Adam Jackson Friday, July 9, 2010

      Mike. I do completely agree. It’s a reason why I own a Blu-Ray player for my TV and iMac where I rip movies I buy and encode them in h.264 in 1080P direct from the Blu-Ray disk (legally) in an effort to get better quality than what Apple provides

      However, as Josh and others will say, it’s not a big deal to consumers. Star Trek in 720P via iTunes is good enough compared to what you and I demand. There’s a reason I use $600 headphones and encode all of my music direct from CD in FLAC or Lossless but for most people, 256kbps via iTunes Plus is perfect for the apple included headphones.

      There will always be us 5% people who demand better quality but most of the world doesn’t care or just doesn’t see the difference and Steve is providing a product that’s perfect for “the rest of us”

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    4. @Mike,

      There’s a reason most people think H.264 at 8-10Mbps 720p is A-OK; it’s way better than old-school NTSC TV.

      As it turns out, there’s a sweet spot between file quality, file size, and the price or processors that can handle HD seamlessly. These specs mesh with it perfectly. Apple could give away BluRay with everything, and it wouldn’t change a thing at this stage.

      Back in 2003/4, things were very different. Video-grade streaming services were non-existent, computers that could play smooth HD were inevitably top-of-the line, and if you wanted to rip a movie, you really had to know what you were doing. That was the weakest and most vulnerable point in the evolution of what Jobs and Gates described above.

      Had Sony followed the computer industry’s cue by offering much more for much less year after year, they wouldn’t have treated BluRay like a premium product. Instead, they would have flooded the market with cheap players, and made BluRay less expensive than standard DVD. They would have encouraged studios to migrate away from MPEG-2 encoding very rapidly, opting for MPEG-4 at bit-rates in the 50Mbps range.

      Audiences would be amazed. At the same time, studios would be creating massive, hard-to process files that would swiftly fill up or choke any drive arrays or internet connections used by prospective pirates. Instead of obsessing over DRM, they’d just make it impossibly large to handle with anything besides BluRay, then focus on redefining the public standard of ‘great’ as widely and rapidly as possible.

      Sure, some people could do the grunt work of aggressively down converting and reposting, but why would anyone care? Cheap movies, cheaper players, and absolutely mind blowing images with no remotely close alternatives at any price would keep this safely marginalized. Seriously, Mike, you know better than most that the real magic of super-high bit rates isn’t simply in resolution or detail, it’s in Vermeer-grade color and a genuine sense of depth. You’re not just improving quality, you’re practically adding another dimension. Spend 2-3 competition-free years cementing your base by selling that for $10-14 alongside decent players for $200-300, and by this time today, your competitive position would be unassailable.

      Within one Holiday season – two at the most – the format would have be everywhere. Movie theaters would be tripping over themselves to upgrade their projectors and screens in a desperate bid for relevance – especially when cheap credit and home-improvement loans were still fast and easy, making the decision to ‘invest’ in a home theater absurdly easy. Just like that, home entertainment’s technical foundation would be set for years to come.

      Best of all, this amazingly shrewd pre-emptive strike would appear to the public like a giant and totally unexpected gift. All the buzz would be about how good and clever the movie studios were, and how – unlike those stupid, vicious record labels – Hollywood was going to respond to the 21st Century by doing what it did best; straight-up giving the people want they wanted, and doing so with a billion-watt smile, must-have technology, and a can’t-say-no price. Coming across as true American heroes would do far more to cultivate social pressure against pirating movies than those ridiculous “you wouldn’t steal a car ads” ever did.

      Sure, a smart launch would probably include some light DRM to help preserve regional markets, but without a massive installed base of legacy players to create conflicts – and more importantly, no more convenient format for consumers to prefer, who would care? Allowing people to make personal copies on their BluRay equipped PCs (instead of requiring DRM so brutal that BluRay PCs would inevitably break), would mean that Jobs and Gates wouldn’t have rejected the format so completely. Not only could this have solidified the format’s grasp, it could have extended its reach to the X-Box, and non PS3 market for games.

      Meanwhile, the Netflix / Hulu streaming model would have been sidelined until 2014 at the earliest. And that’s assuming Comcast starts sucking a lot less, and fast. Unlike mp3, which offered 90% of CD’s quality and 1,000% more convenience, streaming 720p would have had a vastly steeper hill to climb before hitting the freshly redefined ‘good enough’ point at which convenience becomes decisive – especially since convenience matters far less with video formats. Here, mobile playback is an relative anomaly, and BluRay-equipped laptops could dominate the one space where it does seem to matter.

      Yes, the vastly less lucrative streaming models would eventually compete, but not before the studios had had enjoyed a solid decade to get their houses in order, while advertisers, networks, music producers and video games did the heavy work of pioneering the new media landscape.

      Instead, they spent billions they may never recover on R&D, ‘launched’ this format-to-end-all-formats with a ridiculously expensive, market destroying war, squandered the next two (totally critical) years by keeping their market anemic with transparently inflated ‘premium’ prices, hand-delivering their most dangerous competitors the pivotal 24-36 months needed to grow from vulnerable to formidable.

      Yes, the format is enjoying a measure of currency today, but its miles from breaking even, and its window of opportunity for achieving license-to-print-money-dominance is entirely dead and gone. Instead, studios are trying to spike an eroding home entertainment market with rush-job 3D. Sure, they’re delivering higher theatrical grosses than ever, but this is small consolation for having shot themselves in both feet of their single most lucrative channel.

      Then again, given the extraordinary lack of market-savvy their choices revealed, it’s fair to say they earned their failure. Still, it’s amazing to think how truly completely they managed to screw up the last sure thing. I suppose it just goes to show that not every story in Hollywood has a happy ending.

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    5. Peddling isn’t the correct word, he had no choice because bandwidth wasn’t high enough until recently, plus the hardware simply couldn’t support it.

      720p is excellent and plenty for 95% of viewers, so while i understand your concern, 1080p is coming, blu-ray is dying, so be patient.

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  2. I agree with you that an optical drive isn’t a must! But I really think that Steve Jobs should start to realize that not everywhere in the world people are able to open itunes and download and buy movies to their mac!!! Here in Austria we can’t buy movies in itunes! That’s so annyoing! I only say “oh here is the ipad it’s so super awesome, revolutionary and magical just open itunes on it and download movies and surf the web” that’s a real joke! They really should start to make the content available in every itunes store arround the world before telling that blue-ray or something like that is the past…

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    1. That is why they have an app store. Download an app to fill the gaps in Apple’s user experience.

      Illegally download the movies with Bitorrent and then stream them to your iPad or iPhone with AirVideo.

      http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/air-video-watch-your-videos/id306550020?mt=8

      You’re welcome!

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    2. My understanding is that the availability problems you describe are mainly due to the music and video companies, and the countries controls over content, and not just Apple blocking countries.

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  3. I agree with bluray being transitional, even though I have a player. The reality is that most of the movies and shows I watch these days are streamed in HD from Netflix to my XBOX 360.

    I watch maybe 4 movies a month on my PS3, the rest of the time it is unused.

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    1. Stupid 360 fanboy Thursday, September 30, 2010

      Funny because I use my ps3 way more than what I did my 360.

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  4. As far as I know, the main problem is that Apple isn’t licensed to use Blu-ray because they refuse to add DRM junk to their products.

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  5. No way! This streaming compressed crap is fine for music, which most of us play in the background while doing something else. But a movie demands my complete attention (at least a good one does) and I’d like to watch that in the highest possible quality.

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    1. It’s funny because you say that now, but I bet you that if I downloaded an HD movie from the iTunes store, and then threw an HD movie into a Blu-Ray player that you would have a very hard time being able to tell the difference between the two. (assuming I didn’t tell you which was which, and that I didn’t put them side by side.) And if it’s that close of a match-up, does it really matter?

      Think about it. For the cost of seeing a few artifacts in your video during playback, you gain instant-access to movies, cheaper prices, convenience, a rental model, global sync across all Apple sanctioned devices, portability, and much more. Yet, you are willing to give that all up in the name of resolution and surround sound quality? Really?? And the thing that REALLY gets me, is that most of the people that bitch and moan about this stuff are the same people that would turn around and illegally download a movie online in some crappily encoded format and watch it on a somewhat decent sized computer screen. Oh the hypocrisy!

      Unless you are an audiophile, you don’t have the ear drum capacity to differentiate between bit-rates in songs. And most people DON’T CARE.

      The same applies to video. Most people don’t have 20/20 vision, nor do they care about how “sharp” the picture is. They just want access to the content.

      Any guy that has a girlfriend can attest to how much this kind of stuff DOESN’T matter to (most)women (or the general consumer population) It only matters to hardcore geeks that read tech blogs all day long and have nothing better to do then incite inane debates or play Devil’s Advocate for something they probably barely care about.

      In the future, when insanely high bandwidth is commonplace, we can add the intricacies of Blu-Ray movies that the streaming model has removed due to limitations. But we have to lay the ground work for it now. We can’t just flip a switch in the future, and just expect everyone to adopt an online streaming model overnight. You have to slowly build it from the ground up.

      Listen, it may not make many people happy as it stands now, but you have to start somewhere! Trust me, you are going to see lots of people walking around with their feet in their mouth in 2015…

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      1. Adam Jackson Friday, July 9, 2010

        Alex, your comparison was PERFECT. I don’t believe there’s a difference between men and women but most men obsess over such things as tech specs and details and every girl I’ve ever tried to “impress” with Apple Lossless Audio piped over my Shure SHR840 earphones or 40GB Blu-Ray rip on my 30″ Dell LCD has just said, “meh” and would rather sit on the couch and was more impressed that the movie was available instantly via Apple TV direct to the television for $4.99 in HD than the fact that the blu-ray version had 15% less artifacts.

        Great comparison and no I’m not saying women or men are better or worse….but the girlfriend comparison as being general population is correct.

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      2. What about the principle of often paying as much for a lower quality version on iTunes as you would for a DVD or even blu-ray copy? This may not be the case so much in the US but the UK iTunes store gouges like hell on video pricing.

        Here’s another merry scenario for you though – your girlfriend really likes the movie you watched and think’s her sister would like it too, so she asks to borrow it and you then get to explain to her that she can’t because of something called DRM make’s that impossible.

        There are plenty of times when convenience in one regard is an inconvenience in another.

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    2. “But a movie demands my complete attention (at least a good one does) and I’d like to watch that in the highest possible quality.”

      I haven’t watched a movie beginning to end since I don’t know when. I catch a piecemeal half hour to an hour at a time, sometimes just a few minutes. Attention span fragmentation is the future. It has affected many activities up to now and will even hit what was considered single activity entertainment. It is far more important to me to be able to see the video on a choice of several devices than have a good quality version tied to a physical disc. If you have the ability to set aside and kill a couple of hours or more without interruption, more power to you. The average person is heading the opposite direction.

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  6. There’s something that is very rarely said and yet seems very important, which is that even if Macs came equipped with Blu-Ray drives, you still cannot use it to distribute your own movies. The licensing terms for Blu-Ray absolutely require using their DRM, which means you have to pay a rather hefty sum to get an encryption key from the consortium in order to simply create your Blu-Ray disc. You are absolutely disallowed from having non-DRM’d Blu-Ray discs. And that alone makes it completely infeasable for use as a personal storage format.

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    1. Not for data, right? Macs don’t wig-out when Blu-Ray drives are plugged in and Toast 9 & 10 support Blu-Ray data burning. I believe there are also additional cost Toast plugins you can buy to enable movie authoring. I presume Sonic pays some sort of royalty fee so you can buy and use the plugs. Macs are just not equipped to decode and watch Blu-Ray video discs.

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  7. I don’t as much care if the Mac does not have an internal Blu-Ray player. But now the way it is even if I buy a Blu-Ray player for my Mac Pro I still can’t watch any movies via it. This requires OS support and can’t be added by another program. Blu-Ray might be interim technology but streaming of the same quality is certainly not here yet.

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  8. I like the article and the thoughtfulness, but please, can you get an editor? Semicolons, commas, and periods are your friend. It’s very difficult to absorb the content of a piece when there are so many run-on sentences. Thanks.

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    1. It, was: such an’ interesting. article that; I failed: to notice; that ,there, may: have ‘been. punctuation, errors’ but out of curiosity? I, went: back and reread, it again: looking for! errors, even going as far, as reading, it out: loud and? try as I: may I: couldn’t: find, anywhere. that. I would have: added anything: although I do, know that. correctly: placed punctuation. and carefully constructed sentences! indeed add? to readability!

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  9. Apple may not sell Blu-Ray but these guys do for Mac Pro’s internal and they even have an external USB 2.0 / eSATA.

    http://store.mcetech.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=MTOS&Category_Code=STORBD

    Final Cut compatible.

    I bought a DL DVD Burner from them to upgrade a G4 PowerMac previously. Excellent instructions included.

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  10. I have well over 500GB of photos, representing more years of my life than I like to remember. All of them would fit on 10 or 15 double sided discs. Asit is they are on dozens of DVD-Rs and present a hell of a storage problem.

    If Steve Jobs thinks that I will entrust those files to his mobile me cloud, the cloud that synced my keychains to somewhere in outer space, he is very much mistaken.

    Bill Gates might not like Blu-ray But I can buy an internal burner that will run in Windows off the shelf and from what I have heard and read that is very chancy with a Mac.

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    1. ED, Why not buy 4 500 GB Hard drives, they are like $50 each now, throw them in a fire proof save, give the other 3 to people you trust and viola.

      And if you need to add more you can get them back and add more, or spring for the 1TB drives for $80. Honestly, HD’s and enclosures have become so cheap I don’t even see the need for optical media anymore. It used to be convenient to be able to burn 4.7 or 9.4 GB of data, but now it just takes way too long. Hard drives have dropped so low in price while their reliability has increased to the point where I just can’t justify burning anything anymore. I just have a 500 GB passport drive that I throw whatever I need to on and I’m done with it. :)

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      1. Viola? So you’re saying that the solution to someone’s problem is a stringed musical instrument?

        Please, learn to spell the foreign words you don’t possibly understand.

        V-O-I-L-A

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    2. You can buy an external data burning Blu-Ray solution right now from several dealers including Other World Computing. A recent LG or Pioneer drive and Toast 10 and you will be burning $5 25GB BDs that will mount on the desktop (OS 10.4.11 and up I think?) in no time. Just because Apple didn’t provide a packaged solution doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

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