It's been a couple of years now since Blu-ray launched and it's been over a year since it beat HD DVD to become the high-definition format of choice. So with the format rushing into puberty, we thought we'd examine its puss-filled pimples and try not to laugh at its erratic voice.
First of all, if you're a fanboy, don't take this the wrong way. Blu-ray is a terrific format, with plenty going for it. We're just sure it could be good deal better, and we'd appreciate it if those involved could have a little think, and make some tweaks to make it more accessible and consumer-friendly. As always, you should feel free to let us know via the comments section or our forums if you have a point to make on this subject.
This is a simple one, and the least controversial. Blu-ray discs are very expensive, and even with the rapid price reductions we've seen in the last six months, the players are still far too costly. While we agree Blu-ray is a premium format, that doesn't excuse costs of more than twice that of DVD.
In tests, we've found that Blu-ray players can load an interactive, Java-enabled Blu-ray in between 45 seconds and 1 minute 30 seconds. Even the cheapest DVD player loads a standard DVD in no time at all, and plays it straight away. The problem with Blu-ray is there's an awful lot happening during the disc load. When you turn your player on, it needs to load its operating system. After that, when you insert the disc, it has to load Java interactivity and do boring things such as encryption-key exchange.
The reasons don't matter. It's a bad user experience, and something needs to be done about it.
Solution: As hardware gets faster, load times will naturally decrease. We're now at the point where the quickest standalone player can load a disc and begin playback in around 45 seconds. But that's still not quick enough. Because a decent percentage of this load time is tied up in the interactive menu loading, we propose that a button is added to new players. When the user presses this button, the player will ignore the interactive features and simply start playing the movie.
Obviously, movie studios will hate the idea of their expensively designed interactivity not being loaded -- but Blu-ray is a premium movie experience. Users should not have to load features they aren't interested in. We're sure people will still use the interactivity -- but giving them a choice means they can just watch the film.
There's another possible solution here too. AACS allows for 'managed copy'. This process allows a copy of the movie to be stored on a computer, with DRM. If movie studios used this, load times wouldn't be such an issue. The presence of DRM is a fail, but even so there are solutions -- such as Windows Media Centre -- that can make use of these copies.
Physical media might not be dead -- but it should be
Buying a piece of plastic, taking it home and putting it in a Blu-ray player is fine for some people, but it's an outdated way of doing things. It suits movie studios because they believe -- incorrectly -- that they can better protect their movies from copyright theft if they stop electronic distribution.
The truth is, they couldn't be more wrong. Take a look through any torrent site or newsgroup and you won't find any shortage of illegally downloadable Blu-ray rips in exceptionally high quality (sometimes even bit-for-bit copies of the original).
Locking down the hardware with AACS and BD+ doesn't stop illegal downloading. DRM doesn't stop illegal downloading. So why not stop worrying, and learn to love online distribution?
Solution: Allow people access to legal downloads. The main movie studios should get together and set up a torrent site that offers HD movies for £10 or so. No DRM, no usage restrictions and no extras. People who want added value can buy the Blu-ray.
The convenience of being able to decide to watch a movie one minute and be downloading it the next shouldn't be underestimated. It took the music industry ten years to realise that trying to stop piracy with DRM was futile. The process cost the music studios dearly, and there's no need for movie companies to fall foul of the same problem.
Oh -- one more idea. Why not offer an honesty pot for people who downloaded a movie, enjoyed it, and would like to legitimise their ownership of it with a payment? We're sure movie studios think this would legitimise copyright theft, but the fact is, illegal downloading is happening, and they might as well make some money out of it.