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In with the New - Out with the New?
Blu-Ray has been victorious over HD-DVD for less than a year and is only just beginning to reap the benefits of that victory. Yet some are already spreading rumors of Blu-Ray's downfall, claiming that new technologies will soon unseat the fledgling king of physical media. While those rumors are likely exaggerations, it is true that Blu-Ray is threated from several different corners. It is a physical media in an increasingly digital world, which leads some to suggest that it will be overtaken by streaming video. Others say that it simply isn't enough of a step up in comparison to DVD, and that using a solid state memory format is where the future will head. What are the positives of Blu-ray's possible replacements, and how likely are they to steal its thunder?
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Internet Killed the Video Star
One of the most credible threats to Blu-Ray comes in the form of internet video. This includes online stores such as iTunes and streaming video services like Hulu. Blu-Ray, for all its technical excellence, is tied to what is starting to become a dated way of distributing content to consumers - physically putting it on store shelves.
Online stores show much promise because they eliminate the need for overhead. The most consumer-friendly stores can also give consumers who make a purchase access to multiple forms of content with a single purchase. Purchasing video on iTunes, for example, can make it viewable in a home theater, on a Mac or PC, and on an iPod. This flexibility appeals to tech-saavy buyers. Online stores also have low overhead costs, which can result in less expensive prices for consumers and more business.
The Internet is probably Blu-Ray's most credible challenger. However, Blu-Ray provides a substantial leap in quality over Internet video. This is simply a bandwidth issue. A Blu-Ray disc can hold 50GB of data, but an online file of that size could take half a day to download even on an extremely fast connection. The bandwidth available to the average Internet user will have to increase before it can fully overcome Blu-Ray.
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Solid state drives, such as thumb drives and flash drives, are another place many are looking for the future of video. At first glance, it looks like an appealing alternative. Flash drives, like those used with digital cameras, are extremely small, and models which have enough space to hold a high-definition movie are not hard to find. Flash drives also provide good read/write speeds, would eliminate the need for noisy moving parts, and would reduce the shelf space required to display films in stores.
The format also provides great promise for compatibility between devices. Currently there is no physical media that is good for use between all different kinds of devices. A Blu-Ray disc could never work with an iPhone, for example. Flash drive slots are small, however, so devices of all sizes and types could use them. This would reduce shelf space further and it would make things similar for manufacturers by allowing for all movies to be made using a single universal format.
It sounds, sweet, but there is a hitch - cost. Flash drives are much, much more expensive than DVD or Blu-Ray discs, rendering them impractical for use as a media for selling movies. That said, costs do go down frequently. In five years this idea may be more practical.
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My Crystal Ball
It is hard to predict the future of electronics. New ideas lead to new technologies, and those new technologies can rise and fall with the slightest change in the market. Today's golden child could be forgotten tomorrow. Today, Internet video and flash drives seem to be the most credible threats to Blu-Ray.
But it is worth noting that neither format has yet become the darling of any major media company, which is a large knock against them. VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray all originated and were endorsed by huge companies in huge alliances. Such an alliance will likely be responsible for the next major evolution of media distribution, be it Internet video, flash drives, or some other format.