Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Future is in My Wii

Anybody who knows me or reads this blog knows that I'm a movie fan. I love movies. I have a pretty decent collection of DVDs and even some videocassettes that I haven't gotten around to upgrading. So you might think that I'm the kind of guy who'd jump onto the Blu-Ray bandwagon with both feet.


You see, I think Blu-Ray is a transition technology. It's an improvement to DVDs, but it's not the sort of improvement we saw between videocassettes and DVDs. And it's a level of improvement that would require that I upgrade some of my core equipment. My TV isn't high-def, for instance, so I'd need to pull out my antique 55" rear-projection TV and put in something with high-definition capabilities.

But this week, it turned out that the key to the future is actually not part of my home theater system. It's my Wii. You see, this week, Netflix subscribers who are also Wii owners were able to receive a free Wii disk that allowed them to access all of the "Play On Demand" movies available through Netflix.

I've had access to these movies for a couple of years already, but always over my PC. And I don't like watching movies on my PC, so I never took advantage of it. Granted, my computer is 5' away from my TV, but I was never sufficiently motivated to hook them up, so the potential went unrealized.

But now it's here, and it begins to validate a prediction that I've been making for a while. I don't think Blu-Ray is the technology of the future. I think physical DVDs and their equivalents are on their way out. In the future, I expect that we'll simply access movies on demand from huge libraries. Wait, that's not the future - that's happening now! It's happening through Netflix and through cable providers and over the Internet. It just needs to be refined.

The barriers right now are business and bandwidth. Bandwidth-wise, the broadband providers hate movies because they pump huge amounts of data through their infrastructure. Business-wise, the studios are focused on "DVD-sales" as a measure of a movie's post-box-office success. They're going to need to change their business model and find a way to make enough money off movie download services to be satisfied.

But both of those things are going to happen. Why? Because they MUST. People are going to demand it. This is an unusual case where the consumer end of the pipeline is in place, the demand is poised, but the corporate end needs to catch up. In the end, people just want their entertainment. They want it at the time and place of their choosing, they want it convenient to access and they don't want to pay big money for a movie they're only going to watch once.They can already choose from 100,000 Netflix discs if they don't mind waiting until the next day to get their movie. This is just pushing that envelope a bit, allowing instantaneous access without the delay (and cost) of handling and shipping physical media (and having it be scratched to the point of being unwatchable right at a key scene. What the hell do people do with their Netflix discs, anyway? I mean, seriously - you take the disk out of the envelope, put it in the DVD-player, watch it, and put it back. Where do all of these damn scratches come from?? Ahem, I digress.).

So yeah, the Wii is finally catching up to what the PC and the Playstation (and probably the XBox) have been able to do for a while, but the toothpaste is out of the tube and there's no putting it back. Watch events unfold and mark my words - all of those shiny silver DVDs and Blu-Ray discs will be just so many coasters within another five years at the most.

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