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From a friend:

What does the nerdburglar think about blu-ray? Is it even worth getting a player, or is hi-def downloadable content right around the corner?

Here’s what the Nerdburglar has said in the past about the technical difficulties facing large-scale downloadable content:

For the foreseeable future, the internet will not be the primary means of delivery of video to your television. Why can I say this? Primarily because Google says that the IP architecture necessary to deliver video does not scale. “The Web infrastructure, and even Google’s [infrastructure] doesn’t scale. It’s not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect,”

If the web infrastructure doesn’t scale then our digital future will have to be some form of hybrid between Youtube/Hulu and broadcast television. What will that look like?

Note: I’m still perfecting this analogy. The best analogy that I can come up with for how we are going to consume content is to compare it to compare Wal-mart (Google/Amazon/Netflix/Home Server/Blu-Ray) to Seven Eleven (Comcast/broadcast).

Walmart has a limited number of very large stores which contain everything under the sun. These stores have been placed in the most economically efficient locations to provide a vast array of services. If you go to Walmart you know that you will find what you are looking for and it will be cheap. Walmart sells both disposable and non-disposable items. I.e., we can rent it, or we can buy it and watch it over and over without ever paying for it again.

Walmart’s centralized distribution model means that it will be somewhat time-consuming to go there and find what you are looking for however. Your selection at home will be limited to what you have already purchased.

Seven Eleven has a limited selection of items in small stores located within walking distance of your house. The items which Seven Eleven sells are the things which you are most likely to need at any particular time. Seven Eleven sells only disposable items.

Seven Eleven is more expensive, but it is also more convenient. Your selection is limited to what Seven Eleven wants to provide you. More precisely, what Seven Eleven feels are the things that you are most likely to buy.

In our everyday life we make choices between the selection available at Walmart and the convenience of Seven Eleven. In our coming digital life, we will make choices between the affordability/selection available with owned/Netflixed content and the convenience of Comcast.

The Future of Cable Television

Before we proceed further, I want to take one second to talk about On-Demand Cable. My eyes have recently been opened to On-Demand and I now believe that it will have a large impact in how this all plays out. Simply put, On-Demand is a more convenient model than the traditional B-cable channel or the pay movie channels.

The B-cable channel? Yeah, the TV-lands, the TBS’s, Sleuth or any other cable channel which constantly streams nothing but the same re-runs over and over and over. What purpose do these channels serve that cannot be fully satisfied by DVD’s or On-Demand. Nothing other than the ability to run commercials in between content. Consequently, I suspect that we’ll eventually see Cheers and Cosby re-runs On-Demand in replacement of these B-cable channels.

This is consistent with my view that we will start to see less and less cable channels overall. Or at least people subscribing to fewer cable channels. I want a la carte cable, but since I doubt we’ll get it, I might have to be satisfied with better content on fewer cable channels.

Finally, to the extent that Hi-def downloadable content is “right around the corner” it seems to me that On-Demand might be where it will be. On-Demand Video is the cable company’s answer “the last-mile problem.” It doesn’t suffer from the bandwidth restraints that the internet in general suffers from.

The Future of Downloads

So, if our digital future is to be some sort of combination of “cable altered by On-Demand” and the media we own, then the real question we’re trying to answer today is what media do we want to own?

Let’s run some numbers:

  • Today’s internet video streams max out at about 1.3 mbps (megabits per second). AT&T U-verse’s Elite is anticipated to max out at a download speed of 6.0 Mbps.
  • A regular 480i DVD-movie is approximately 6 GBs. A dual-layer 8 GB DVD plays at about 5 mbps and 8 mbps.
  • Conclusion: If you get AT&T’s U-verse Elite service, which isn’t widely available yet, you might be able to eventually stream a 480i DVD quality movie over the internet. Eventually is the key word. Maybe not ever due to other constraints on the internet.

  • A high definition movie (1280×720 resolution) is approximately 20 GBs of data. Providing a single true high-definition stream to the home will require a minimum of 8mbs, and probably as much 12mbs. IPTV requires 16 mbps per HD Channel.
  • Conclusion: IPTV (and probably On-Demand) will eventually allow for HD movies. Not streaming internet HD movies, but those served up by your cable provider only.

    Blu-ray to the Rescue?

    Ultimately the consumer will be best served by the Wal-mart model. Buy your DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Either play them in that form or upload them onto a central household server and stream them throughout the house.

    I don’t think the “disk” is the ideal medium for movies. Its great for long term storage of large files to be sure. I find them less convenient than a dedicated home server which can be streamed to any television in the house however.

    I firmly believe in the future of the AppleTV or some other streaming device which sits on top of your television. I believe that eventually most people will put their DVD’s a hard drive allowing them to play videos on any tv in the house through an Itunes like interface.

    So, if you’re going to eventually have a home server/Apple TV, you want to plan your media purchases to prepare for that eventuality.

    The Home Network: The next iteration of Wi-fi–802.11n–is supposed to be finalized this year or next. The N-standard will provide theoretical transfer speeds that are ten times that of the G-standard over twice the distance. This will easily be enough to concurrently stream HD Movies to multiple TV sets over your network. So no problem here.

    Storage: (This discussion assumes that you can hack the Blue-ray disk and put it on a hard-drive. Hacking the regular DVD is easily done today.) Assuming that this is all going to happen a year or three down the road, I’ll make the reasonable assumption that your home server is comprised of a minimum of two two-terabyte hard-drives. One primary, one backup.

    One terabyte currently costs about $100. More will cost less in the future.

    With that two terabytes, we can store approximately: 100 HD-Movies, 330 480i-Movies, 1,300 480i half-hour sitcoms or more likely, some combination of the three.

    What’s the Nerdburglar planning on doing?

    The Nerdburglar has a large collection of movies. I suspect that out of that collection there is only a small portion of which I will definitely upgrade to HD. The Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. For the rest of them, DVD quality is mostly satisfactory to me.

    As such, I’m comfortable waiting around for Blu-ray prices to continue to fall all the while continuing to buy $5 DVDs at Amazon.

    In my minds eye, the only downside of that approach is the conundrum of whether to buy new movies on DVD if I know that I will eventually want them High-Def. A small price to pay I think.

    Related Reading:
  • Net Neutrality Part 4: Will the Internet Replace Television?
  • Net Neutrality Part 3: Media Consumption
  • Net Neutrality Part 2: Lessons From the 1996 Telecom Act
  • Clash of the Titans: Cable vs. Big Media
  • How Much Does ESPN Cost a Month?
  • Net Neutrality and the Future of the Internet (Part 1)
  • Newsburglar Archives