Netflix vs Blu-ray: is there a future for optical discs?

Netflix vs Blu-ray disc
Can optical formats survive the streaming sensations of the 21st Century?

This is an old interview that has been republished for techradar's Movie Week.

The Blu-ray format can stay relevant despite the challenges from streaming, according to the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), which has confirmed plans to announce a new 4k-capable Blu-ray Disc with enhanced audio before the end of the year.

Marty Gordon, Vice President of Alliances & Communications at Philips and spokesman for the BDA, told TechRadar at the IFA 2013 exhibition in Berlin that people are buying 'smart' Blu-ray players to both play discs and stream movies from cloud-based apps like Netflix, Lovefilm and Blinkbox.

"The cloud is more of an opportunity than a challenge," he said. "We view the cloud as a digital extension to the digital experience and they really do go hand in hand. There's always an interest in enhanced quality."

Bullish over Blu-ray

Gordon has reasons to be bullish about the format's future. Lower prices for Blu-ray discs have fueled sales, with FutureSource Consulting reporting rises in sales of Blu-ray players – not counting the PlayStation 3 – of as much as 20%.

Growth is biggest in the US, though in the UK sales have increased by about half a million in the past few years. The Xbox One will also include a Blu-ray drive, though the focus is now shifting to 4K.

"4K TVs are now becoming available, and I'm sure there would be a lot of interest in a Blu-ray players offering 4K," said Gordon. "And companies will be actively promoting both."

"There's room for optical disc and streaming – it's not one or the other," he said. "New technologies take some time to get used to and the disc is very consumer-friendly. Consumers still want physical media, but they're getting more into the streaming experience."

He added that the disappearance of movie streaming service Acetrax only "reinforces the need for high capacity Blu-ray." He also added that the BDA has always viewed the UltraViolet digital locker scheme as an enhancement to Blu-ray, not a challenge.

IFA 2013 has seen several new Ultra HD TVs with HEVC-compliant USB slots capable of playing 4K clips downloaded from the web, while Sony also announced 4K downloads for its Video Unlimited service for its Bravia TVs.

However, Sony is a driving force within the BDA, and Gordon was keen to point out that there is an industry-wide consensus around creating a 4K-capable Blu-ray disc. "It's about consumer choice but ultimately we think Blu-ray is the best format," he said. "That's why so many companies are working together to get the next Blu-ray format ready."

What about 3D?

Gordon also admitted that 3D Blu-ray had failed to live up to expectations, but that its very existence underlined how much of an advantage optical discs have over streaming.

"It's not where we wanted it to be," he admitted. "We always said that all the pieces of the jigsaw had to fall in place before 3D can take off and that means content, but having a 3D experience as well as 2D on a single disc is proof that people need physical media – you can't do these things any other way. It reinforces the argument for quality in physical media."

Is it the end for 3D, or could it yet make a comeback?

"You need the whole ecosystem for 3D to really take off, and that means software as well as hardware – and it's not just about Blu-ray," said Gordon. "If there was more 3D Blu-ray content and broadcast 3D content available then I'm sure it would take off."

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),