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Do we need Blu-ray drives?

Do we need Blu-ray drives?

The newly-released PowerDVD 12 is a program with a bit of a challenge on its hands. The Ultra edition sells for around £80, and the job of publisher Cyberlink is to convince us that it’s worth shelling out that amount of cash for a piece of software to, at heart, play back discs. Granted, it has mobile and 3D features, and many other things like that. But its core job, surely, remains pretty much unchanged: you put a movie disc in your drive, and expect it to play.

But it’s fighting a tough battle on more than one front. At a time when VLC has finally – finally – been able to release a beta that supports the Blu-ray format, it does seem as though apathy towards the format as a whole is prevalent, particularly amongst PC users.

It comes to the point where we end up asking: do we actually need Blu-ray drives in our PCs? And is there much point in having them?

How many, if you scan through the numerous adverts for pre-built systems, offer a Blu-ray drive as standard, either on desktop of laptop? And why would they? How many of us, really, are insistent on a Blu-ray drive as a core part of a system build or upgrade? At a point where predictions maintain that Blu-ray will outsell DVD in 2015, it seems the balance of hardware sales suggests anything but.

Do we need Blu-ray drives? Do we need Blu-ray drives? (Part 1)
Have you got a stash of these?

Incentive
So where is the incentive to put a Blu-ray build as part of a PC build? For movie playback, the benefit of Blu-ray is, primarily, in the improved presentation of the main feature. A 1080p video transfer certainly offers advantages over the capabilities offered by the DVD format (although we'd suggest improved audio quality is just as tangible a feature), but it’s questionable, given the size of the screens many of us use for our desktop machines, whether it’s worth the bother. Especially when assorted online services will sell you a legal high definition download, which will work quite happily without faffing around with a disc, and the likes of PowerDVD.

It's not as if too many of us have a desktop PC connected to the TV, and the rise in media streaming devices, and economical ones at that, have lessened the demand for a media PC.

Furthermore, DVD is still the dominant format for movies, even though Blu-ray has snagged itself a decent market share. Blu-ray movies are thus having to do battle with a massively-established rival that many are happy with, along with the elephant in the room: faster broadband speeds that are fueling rampant piracy.

It feels more and more like it might just have been the right optical disc format, fatally brought to market a year or two later than it needed to be.

Blu-ray Gaming?
What’s perhaps surprising, though, is how ambivalent PC gaming has been to the Blu-ray format, with no sign still, five years later, that it’s catching on. Here’s where an optical disc is being thoroughly outstripped by download services, and it has no answer to them (not least because even games on DVD want to tie themselves to a service such as Steam anyway).

That said, PC games publishers never adopted Blu-ray, a format that’s been, instead, the mainstay of the PlayStation 3 alone.

That’s unsurprising: it’s Sony’s format, after all, and it gambled a lot on bringing it to market. Just to prevail as the high definition optical format of choice, Sony had to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to see off the threat of HD DVD, and had to put up the success of the PlayStation 3 as collateral.
Do we need Blu-ray drives? Do we need Blu-ray drives? (Part 1)
Sony bet big on the Blu-ray format, including wagering the future of the PlayStation on it

The reason the PlayStation 3 is in third place in this round of the console wars, when the PS2 won the last at a canter, is due squarely to Sony’s desire to use it as a Trojan horse for the Blu-ray format. It was that decision that delayed the console’s release for nearly two years, and it was that decision that also lumbered it with a £400+ asking price at UK launch. Microsoft, who casually threw a few quid in the direction of HD DVD, probably couldn’t believe its luck, as the Xbox 360 gained a foothold that few could have seen coming a few years before its launch.

But back to the PC. Game publishers there would rather release a title on multiple DVDs or download instead. To my knowledge, there’s never been a prominent PC game that’s been published on the Blu-ray format, nor will there ever be. Certainly not a successful one, anyway.

But why is that? Might we suggest two reasons: cost, and take-up...