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Is the End of Physical Media Inevitable?

With the rise of iTunes, Netflix, and other online sources of streaming and downloadable audio/video content, many now predict that physical media such as CD, DVD, and Blu-ray will soon go the way of the dinosaurs. According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, sales of CDs and DVDs are down 57 and 33 percent, respectively, over the last four years, but Blu-ray disc sales have grown by almost 19,000 percent in the same time frame. Still, there are those who see Blu-ray as the last physical medium in the face of the online onslaught.

Others believe that physical media will never disappear altogether, in part because it's human nature to collect physical objects, and the sense of ownership is greater when you have something to hold in your hands. Additional factors in this argument include physical media's permanence—there's no chance of losing the data in a hard-disk crash—and generally superior sound and picture quality.

Which side of this argument are you on? Do you believe that the end of physical media is upon us, or will it survive the rise of online distribution, perhaps with the development of a future technology such as holographic crystals with terabytes of capacity? Or will it become a niche market as vinyl LPs are today?

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice. Is your vote a real prediction or wishful thinking?

Is the End of Physical Media Inevitable?
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pjonsson's picture

I certainly hope physical media will not disappear.

Personally, I really want to have something tangible to hold in my hand when I am collecting something. I want to be able to walk up to my book shelf and simply look at my films.

Physical media will always be one step ahead in terms of quality. At least for a very long time to come.

It also doesn't have all the hassle of various DRM schemes that tie it to your hardware = a pain or even disaster if you hardware dies or needs to be replaced for other reasons.

If physical media disappears it will be because of the greedy movie companies who want to save money. Not because physical media is really outdated.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I'm with you all the way!
uavkelsci's picture

Non physicaL media would have to be able to download a picture as good as what blue ray could offer. On the same token it would also have to download the high quality audio that blue ray offers too. That is what I would hope people would expect if they at the very least own a high def television and to those who have spent their moneys on any type of home theater system that decodes the high defintion codecs of Dolby and DTS. This is not to say that subscribers would accept less than the state of the art. They might for after all there is nothing like convience and small size. Are many people satisfied the way their Ipods and digital download music plays at smaller bits. It is sometimes hard to predict the future of anything but I like having my own private television station to play at my convenience from a vcr to a dvd/blue ray player. The trouble is that many people do not realize this point.

fcapra1's picture

Now, I don't need a disk or something to hold, but I do want something to own. I'm more interested in that than the need to hold it in my hands. I like the idea that I can have a file that's mine on a computer, media server, or something. I like to buy something once and not have to pay every time I want to see it or have so many viewings in a certain amount of time (which is what all the media distributors would love!).

I like streaming media. It's nice to turn on Netflix and stream a film or show that I don't have at the house. With that said, even my HD streaming content does not look as good as my Blu-ray disc content. I hope Netflix has dropped the idea to go all streaming.

Here are some of the big problems I see:

1. Even if streaming looked as good as Blu-ray, everyone will need at least a 10mb connection (perhaps more) for this to work. I doubt half the country is running at this speed.

2. I don't know the numbers on this, but there are lots of places that can't get high speed internet service. The US has lagged behind as a country to get high speed to the masses. So, what about those areas that are dial-up or sat only? One is too slow the other is too expensive.

3. Bandwidth is a problem. Do we currently have the resources to have 50 people in an apartment complex, all using Verizon, to stream a film without any slow downs or image degradation?

4. ISP's want to charge more. Many ISP's want to charge more for streaming services, like Netflix. I don't want to pay another 20 bucks on top of the $50 for internet access so I can stream content.

5. What to do when the service goes out? I can't watch a film if the internet goes down.

Physical content avoids all these issues! Even if many of these issues were solved, #4 will be a big problem.

nathan_h's picture

I don't know the timeline, and certainly the technology and infrastructure is not ready yet, but look at the example of the Kindle: Amazon sells more via Kindle than via paper.

Clearly once the quality, price, and convenience are all in place, digital delivery will be the more popular option.

Does that mean all physical media will disappear? No. But it will become the exception.

I mean, when was the last time you bought a physical copy of Ultimate AV Mag?

I'm still buying discs and will do so until there are no reasons not to. But every advance in digital delivery makes that case a little more compelling. I don't know what the tipping point will be, but things like Ultraviolet are big steps in that direction.

uavtmsorosk's picture

Many have been predicting the end to physical media for music and audio , video mags . We were told in about 1980 that with in ten years all shopping would be done on line and most retail stores would be closing . Now we laugh at things like that .

Phopojijo's picture

I *slightly* disagree.

If Physical Media disappears it's because the greedy movie companies decide to shift their business model to a pure-licensing arrangement.

Though assuming copyright infringement's not the only way to acquire a physical copy... there will likely always be the lucrative market of collectors and archivists.

I hope so, at least, because it's quite hard for art to survive if items can be kicked off of a random streaming company's back catalog, etc. to keep people watching new content... creating a disposable entertainment churn while sacrificing prior timeless art.

loop7's picture

As we've seen in music, many consumers are okay with low quality media (compressed music) in order to have choice and convenience.

For myself, I could live without physical media if the quality could be at the level Vudu HDX delivers and if ISPs could provide required bandwidth. Not going to happen so we might be left out in the cold.

Frog600's picture

Industry analysts across consumer and enterprise agree that not only will physical media be a thing of the past, but locally stored content will be a bygone as well. It will take a decade, but true ubiquity and access to all personal and public information anywhere at anytime is almost certain. Access to quality entertainment will be no different. Vudu, iTunes in the cloud, Netflix, etc is just the beginning. I can't get DTS-HD from Vudu now, but thats just a matter of time. 5 years ago Mark Cuban said that the "pipe" is not large enough to push things like 3D. Well, Vudu just announced that they are pushing 3D. Other than the nostalgia of touching the disk (bookworms smelling books apposed to e-readers), why would you want physical media... if you could just access the same quality content anywhere at anytime (including a $20K dedicated home theater)?

mailiang's picture

It seems like they will be discontinuing the CD by the end of the year. I wouldn't be surprised if this includes the demise of SACD as well. The masses are going for MP3 devices like the ipod for the convenience of downloading music on-line.
Regardless of the recent changes in CD's and I haven't found a significant deterioration in sound quality, at least not from the ones that I have bought recently, the fact remains that the convenience of the internet has already had a negative affect on all replicated formats. This even includes the growth of Blu-Ray. Blu-Ray disc's offer one of the most advanced forms of data storage we have ever seen, however, Blu-Ray player manufacturers are now having to add media player technology, which is a major competitor to Blu-Ray. Why? This is so that they can attract consumers with video streaming and file playing. Unless internet technology and streaming can provide superior sound and video quality by the time it becomes the dominant media format, it will be a sad day indeed, at least for me.


Eagleshadow's picture

I think physical media will continue to be developed. I buy Blue Rays only of those titles I think are special to me or represent something great in the movie historical context. I have Direct Tv and I enjoy it but there is so much trash available to me on Direct Tv that I skip over 99.9% of the movies available. Online or satellite is good for auditioning material to see if it is worth buying a Blue Ray. The rest of the time I just have fun with movies, especially the classics. Computer based music is really quite good these days but, is no match of the old fashion CD.

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