Monday, December 3, 2012

Blu-ray vs Streaming Format vs Digital Downloads, the next battle of Format Wars

The format wars did not end in Blu-ray winning as a format of choice to those who loved movies. Blu-ray may have defeated HD-DVD but it has yet to conquer others, like, digital downloads, video on demand, pay per view and even the streaming format. Videophiles in this “information age” have a lot to choose from when it comes to home theater content. You can buy and rent movies online without buying the physical disc itself, you can watch content immediately after downloading your purchased movie.

That is why home theaters today have the streaming devices like the AppleTV. It seems that content is not just moving to blu-ray but also to digital downloads. There are viewers and movie enthusiasts who prefer watching content only once that is why they rent. There are some viewers who buy or purchase movies and put them in their library or collection. This is the reason why some find it practical to buy a streaming device and buy movies online, without having the hassle to go to the store and purchase.

Some would say that digital downloads would never get to the same HD quality that blu-ray has, which I agree, at times the pictures are pixelated on the standard and high definition contents of digital downloads.

AppleTV might just change this perception, that digital downloads are inferior to the blu-ray quality of content. On March 7, 2012, Apple released the 3rd generation AppleTV. From the 720p capabilities of the 2nd generation, Apple upgraded this 3rd generation streamer to 1080p that by some standards today would consider it FullHD.

 The 3rd Generation AppleTV.

Upon testing the AppleTV, I find that the picture quality is similar to that of the blu-ray format. There are no pixels seen by the naked eye and the picture, it is so life-like that the only missing element is 3D. The war between the digital download and the optical format is narrow as both formats have its advantages. This is only done after downloading the movie and saving it to my computer. But if you are going to stream it straight from the internet the picture quality deteriorates.

Digital Downloads... better than DVDs, but Blu-rays are the Best...yet

Point of Reference. An SD Card size compared to AppleTV

Most filmmakers do not switch their work of art to digital video camera. Some of them still use the traditional film and for them, digital video is less superior even to 35mm cameras. Traditional film cameras still produce high quality videos. Hence during the transfer to digital media they are preserved in different forms of media like the blu-ray and the digital download.

For now, blu-ray produces superior picture quality because of its superior capacity. Where does the battle lie today? It is in “mpbs” or megabits per second of playback. The higher the bitrate, the better. Today streaming devices can only produce quality pictures based on mbps. Internet services today would range from 1-12 mbps. At times these services are expensive especially when you exceed a predetermined data threshold. Sometimes services even slow down when you have reached these thresholds and data caps.

How much bitrate playback is needed to produce blu-ray quality videos? Blu-ray disc videos produces up to 36 mbps to produce high definition at 24 frames per second. That is why, when you’re watching Will Smith’s “I Am Legend”, you can see the imperfections on the actors face, the pictures are so detailed and seamless you can’t see any pixels. 

Streaming devices today even those that stream in HD would only produce playback rates of 1 mbps to 10 mbps tops. That kind of streaming is similar to a single and dual layer DVD playback. That is why analysts say that blu-ray will stay on the market for at least the next 15 years, until ISPs can produce 100 mbps on their internet. That is a much longer life span compared to the VHS format.

There are streaming services that produce 720p videos and movies that stream at about 20 mbps,  which still falls short of the 36 or 40 mbps playback of the blu-ray disc.

Now that Apple produces 1080p HD videos, will it be considered a DVD killer? Or even a blu-ray killer? That is a question only time can tell, as new technologies emerge so too on how we buy, rent and view movies.

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