The Blu-Ray Cup is Fifteen Percent Full

By  |  Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Retail research company NPD is out with a new report on Blu-Ray, and among the tidbits in its press release is the fact that 15 percent of consumers surveyed by NPD report having used a Blu-Ray player in the past six months. Analyst Russ Krupnick provides a sound bite in the press release that sounds, well, lukewarm:

While Blu-ray may not be the replacement for DVD that many once hoped for, it is certainly adding strength to the physical video-disc market. This added stability is helping to extend the life of discs, even as digital options gain in popularity.

So is 15 percent penetration good, bad, or indifferent? Well, Blu-Ray was launched in June of 2006, so it’s now a half-decade old. By way of (imprecise) comparison, DVD turned five in 2002–and that year, the CEA reported that DVD players were in 35 percent of U.S. households that year. Sounds like Blu-Ray is off to a far more sluggish start than its predecessor.

Of course, we live in a way different world than we did when DVD arrived. Its advantages over VHS as a movie-watching medium were huge and obvious: far better quality and random access in a much smaller, less fragile package. And DVD faced no competition as a new-and-improved way to watch movies.

Blu-Ray is a better way to watch movies than DVD, but it’s more subtle–the big draw is really, really good quality rather than really good quality. It faces competition galore: a far-flung, overlapping mishmosh of choices including Apple TV, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, TiVo, Roku, Boxee, Google TV, and lots more. You can consume vast quantities of high-quality video without ever getting near an optical disc.

When Blu-Ray was under development early in this century, it was obviously meant to be a DVD replacement: a new box that everyone would buy to replace their old box. That’s not going to happen. Some early-adopter types (like my friend Louis Gray) are just skipping Blu-Ray and moving directly to movies that don’t involve physical media. Extremely late adopters will stick with DVD for now–and Blu-Ray may have come and gone before they’re ready to retire their DVD players.

That leaves everybody who’s neither a bleeding-edge type nor a lollygagger as potential Blu-Ray buyers. And it seems to me that if a lot of them end up buying a DVD player, it won’t be because they’re all that excited over Blu-Ray. They’ll get it because players are now available under a hundred bucks, rendering it a very low-cost upgrade over DVD if you’re buying an optical player at all. They’ll get it because so many Blu-Ray players come with Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, and other streaming services, making a Blu-Ray player one of the most logical ways to connect an HDTV to the Internet. They’ll get it (as I did) because they buy a PlayStation 3. They might get it because they (gulp) buy a 3D-capable TV and need a source of 3D content.

Maybe there’s still a window for Blu-Ray to do okay–not as the next big thing, but because…well, because it’s just there.


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Bill Sheppard Says:

    The pertinent statistic isn’t what percentage of homes have Blu-ray, it’s what percentage of _HD_ homes have Blu-ray. And on this basis, Blu-ray adopting compares favorability to DVD, especially considering that, as you’ve pointed out, the feature gap between Blu-ray and DVD is smaller than between DVD and VHS.


  2. Rob Says:

    We’re generally late adopters because we can’t afford to pay the high costs of new technologies, especially in light of the need to buy the replacements when things settle down a year or so later. We have had Blu-ray players in our house (we now have two, not counting a computer), but only because we needed to replace DVD players. Now that we have Blu-ray players, we buy a few Blu-ray discs, but only for movies which we perceive will benefit significantly from the higher resolution, and which are decidedly not $30 and more. For example, we bought Journey to the Center of the Earth on Blu-ray because of the colors and effects — the bio-luminescent birds are really cool! By contrast, we still buy many DVDs because the source material won’t benefit much by Blu-ray and because the cost of DVDs is very low by comparison.

    In other words, we exactly fit your summary description. The players are inexpensive enough to be viable replacements, despite DVD players being $30-50, because they give us the option to buy Blu-rays. However, unless — and until — Blu-rays displace DVDs altogether, we won’t buy Blu-ray discs simply because they’re there.

  3. Mark Hernandez Says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the "mishmash of overlapping online alternatives" has holes in it too.

    Virtually EVERYTHING new and recent is published on DVD/Blu-ray. Kinda like you can still get every book on paper, and every song and album on CD. Not always true, of course, but the percentage is still way, way up there.

  4. Ron Says:

    The author of this is a total idiot. Don't waste your time reading anything that this fool writes.

  5. Derek Says:

    Do you talk about yourself in the third person often?

  6. Lincoln Spector Says:

    Right from the beginning, I said that Blu-ray (or HD-DVD) would end up being to DVD what Laserdisc was to VHS–the format for serious cinephiles. So it's become a much bigger success than I expected it to be. (Or maybe there are just more cinephiles.)


  7. Dave Says:

    Blue ray players are cheap. Blue-ray disks are not for the most part. If the price of disks falls then there will be no need for DVD. Streaming is not yet competitive for me because for the price of a Netflix account with unlimited Blue-ray rentals I can only stream 4 HD movies (unless I am streaming from Netflix's free but very limited movies).

  8. nick dafo Says:

    poor blu ray 🙁 i like discs and i have my ps3 for them

  9. George Rose Says:

    It all boils down to a question of how much one values the presentation. At present, the quality, whether music or movies (sound matters there also) as well as picture are at their highest only in hard copy (disks). This will change but at my age I doubt I will see it. In the meantime, Blu-Ray till my demise. My heirs will no doubt be able to copy that part of their inheritance to whatever media is the "tech de jour". Then again, they may not want to invest the time. One can only hope the content is worthy.

  10. pellet press Says:

    including Windows-only models–but the timing is certainly suspect. Has the same thing happened to my scanner? I don't know.