Blu-Ray Blues

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

The Christmas shopping season is upon us…and retailers are waiting with baited breath to see if anyone shows up. Unfortunately for Hollywood, either way, it seems to me that Santa will not be putting many hi-def DVD players under the trees of good boys and girls.

It is not overstated to say that home video saved Hollywood. Sales of video cassettes and then DVD's dramatically extended the life of movies and TV shows. But sales of DVD's are flat, and the studios have been frantically looking to put air in home video's tires. Hi-definition home video was supposed to do just that.

When hi-def DVD's appeared on the scene around 2001, it seemed like the logical successor to regular old DVD's. In the same way digital video replaced analog video, the studio's hoped the new, exceptionally clear format would cause people to throw out their old players and replace that old collection of outdated discs.

But the battle between two competing formats delayed the arrival of hi-def DVD, Christmas shopping season after Christmas shopping season. And by the time Sony's Blu-Ray format emerged victorious last year, it may have been all for naught. Because consumers can see the downloadable digital future from here, and DVD's – hi-def or not – are starting to seem downright old school.

Even if their timing had been better, i always thought that hi-def DVD – and Blu-Ray in particular – had a tough row to hoe with consumers.

Think about it: in its first incarnation, home video was revolutionary – you mean i can watch my favorite movie at home! It was so new, so exciting, that video cassette didn't need a sexy marketing campaign, just its simple moniker: we knew what cassettes where, we knew what video was, so the video cassette was easily understood and its value immediately appreciated.

Then DVD came along, and it was so space age. You didn't need to rewind, for god's sake! And the quality was a million times better and it didn't fade over time. CD's were already a part of our everyday life, so the DVD was both familiar and new.

And then, here comes poor Blu-Ray. The name Blu-Ray – which refers to the violet-colored laser light it uses – means nothing to the consumer. A Blu-Ray disc looks a lot like a DVD. And while improving picture quality for sure, it's an incremental improvement and a questionably desirable one at that.

Because while watching the big game in hi-def on your big screen TV really takes you there, hi-def's ultra-clarity effectively destroys the chiaroscuro that's so much a part of movie magic. And as far as the DVD's of my favorite old TV shows go, do i really need to see Rachel, Chandler and Phoebe in hi-def? Do i really want to see the styrofoam boulders in the original Star Trek any clearer? Even the porn industry, which led the way in with VCR's and then DVD players, hasn't really embraced the medium. Quite frankly, they just don't want you to see those “actors” with that kind of clarity.

So add all that to the economic meltdown…and the future is not bright for Blu-Ray. You will not see huge displays of Blu-Ray players in best buy or tons of ads for the new player. You will not see the Blu-Ray logo splashed across Netflix' home page. Quietly, the hi-def DVD appears to be accepting its fate. Blu-Ray is making and will continue to make some money for Hollywood, but it is not the answer to the home-video blues.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at You can podcast this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman