Discs vs. Downloads
In my last newsletter, I lauded the capabilities of the Blu-ray format as a platform for HD Music (with or without video accompaniment. I also mentioned that I believe the Blu-ray is the final spinning disc that consumers will ever have to put into a player. The reason is simple: the cloud. If you haven't yet heard of cloud computing, here's a quick explanation. The digital cloud is a limitless, personal storage locker that exists beyond the confines of your personal computer or portable device. It can contain media files of all types (music, videos, photos, documents etc) as well as application programs.
We are truly on the verge of a new era in personal computing. In fact, it's already well underway. Thanks to the tremendous growth in the power and speed of wired and wireless networks, the diminishing costs of storage, the improvements in compression technologies for audio and video and the unprecedented popularity of tablets and portable connected devices, the shift to cloud computing makes sense. Or does it?
Anytime, Anywhere and Anything.
Imagine having instant access to every piece of important digital media anytime and anywhere. It sounds like a dream come true. No longer would you have to worry about hard drive crashes or losing track of where your favorite photos went to. You simply connect wirelessly to your "locker in the cloud", do a quick search for the particular piece of media that you looking for and presto you're all set. Music, videos, photos, texts, audio notes and more will be permanently stored on a service providers servers for you to link to anytime. Similarly to NetFlix, you'll simply pay a small monthly subscription charge.
However, there's a small problem. The quality of your media experience is dependent on the quality and speed of the network connection you happen to have at the particular time you want to play a particular piece of media. That means that the video or audio will most likely be compressed to the point just before you would contact the company and complain. It happened before when telephones were first introduced over 100 years ago and it still present in the kind of downloaded music you can get from iTunes and Rhapsody. There is a rush to the lowest possible quality because that's where the mass market is…and the profits.
There is no way that a high definition audio or video file can be delivered to all of the users that want better quality. The network pipes, the lossless compression technologies and the limitations of portable devices just aren't ready for high quality yet. And that's if you're a fan of 2-channel stereo. If you're like me and want the ultimate quality is all 5.1 speakers…the day of cloud delivery is a long ways off. The labels and telecommunications companies don't care about us.
The delivery of higher and higher quality media (including 4K and 8K 3D ultra HD video) is going to be a part of the market for quality conscious consumers. For us, discs like Blu-ray make sense. They are simple to make, inexpensive to replicate and familiar. Those attributes are going to matter for many years to come.
Not everyone is living the kind of lifestyle that will make cloud delivery of media a requirement.
No Clear Winner - We Need Discs AND Streaming
I have most of the latest gadgets…iPhone 4, iPad, 12-core Mac desktop computer, 65" 3D Panasonic Display, Oppo BDP-95 3D Blu-ray player with music server capabilities. I'm comfortable with all of them and there are times when one is better suited to the task at hand than another. I doubt that discs are going to go away anytime soon. And I'm sure that cloud deliveries will increase in popularity. After all, last year was the first time that Atlantic Records (part of the WB family of labels) sold more digital downloads than CDs. Times are changing…for the middle of the marketplace. But for those that love the best, we get to wait.