Why DVD Still Reigns Supreme

10 Oct, 2009 | FilmThoughtsOpinion

Originally published October 2009 on the now-defunct ascreennearyou.co.uk

I’ve been meaning to write a post about why I think DVD still outsells any other medium for video media for a while and this post over at Technologizer gave me a bit of a push.

The post discusses a conversation between Reed Hastings, CEO of Netfix, and Chris Null of the Motley Fool.  You can find the Yahoo Tech write-up here, the Video Business summary here and the original MP3 interview here.

Hastings believes DVD has only two years left as the primary format for movies.  So why is DVD still the primary format? Blu-ray won the format war and has slowly been gaining traction, but most of the people I know don’t have a stand-alone Blu-ray player.  Most watch Blu-rays on their PS3, mainly because they don’t buy Blu-ray movies.

Some of them use iTunes to rent or buy (mainly to buy) and some use rental services like Netflix and LOVEFiLM, most still just buy DVDs.

Personally, I’d like to be able to get digital downloads but I typically just buy DVDs.  I don’t own a Blu-ray player, not even a PS3.  The question is why?  The answers are simple:

  1. Price – DVDs are significantly cheaper than the other formats.
  2. Flexibility – there are tons of ways to rip DVDs into formats you can use in other locations, onto my media centre PC, for example, or my iPod.  They’ll play practically anywhere and I can easily loan them out.

Let’s take a look at price, for example.

What about the advantages of the other formats?  Blu-ray has higher quality picture and sound.  I have a 32” HDTV, but you’d be hard pressed to see the difference between 1080p (Blu-ray) and 720p, especially at the distance I sit (here’s a chart), realistically you’ll need a 40”+ screen to worry about it.  I also use the standard TV speakers, so surround sound doesn’t help me.

Compare that to a digital download (from iTunes, for example).  Some are standard definition format, which is lower quality than DVD and some are HD (typically 720p, a typical DVD, for comparison, is around 480i/p).  So you may or may not get better quality.  The only real benefit seems to be instant availability and the lack of physical media (which may be a plus to some).

So no real benefits for most people.  Then you the main negative: price.  Take a look at The Dark Knight, for example:

Now bear in mind that Amazon offers free delivery (and even if it didn’t, Play.com does, with prices of £4.99 and £12.99) and DVD comes out the clear favourite on price.

To be fair though, taking a newer release, The Boat that Rocked, as an example:

The difference is, as I’ve already shown, give it a few weeks and it’ll be under £10, give it a few months and it’ll be £5-£8.  Not the same for the others in my experience.

So no tangible benefits and a clear negative on price.  If they want people to switch formats at the least they should match the price!

Then you have flexibility.  DVD is supported by all computer operating systems, you can’t play Blu-ray on Linux and none of the Macs have Blu-ray drives as an option. There are tons of tools to help you get DVDs into formats for iPods and other media players, not so many for Blu-ray and iTunes downloads will only play on your PC or other Apple products.  There are car DVD players, portable DVD players and you’re pretty-much guaranteed to be able to play one if you take it round a friend’s house.

Not so with the other formats.  So they both lose to DVD in flexibility.  You could even add that most people don’t have a computer or Apple device hooked up to their TV, so downloads aren’t viable anyway.

All in all, there are too many reasons to stick with DVD at the moment and I don’t see that changing short term.  What about in two year’s time?  I think Blu-ray will have more market share, but I’m expecting downloads to be on the climb by that point and Blu-ray will, I think, become obsolete before it ever takes off.  It doesn’t offer sufficient benefits to warrant the cost to move and I don’t think it ever will.  Downloads will offer some practical benefits in terms of quick availability and, once we get some competition, cost (downloads are already starting to compete on price but could and probably should be much cheaper than DVDs).  They need more home theatre integration though, which probably won’t be PCs connected to TVs, but more Apple TV-like devices.