Blu-Ray licensing gets easier, will Apple be tempted?

Fri, Feb 27, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

Sony, Philips, and Panasonic announced on Thursday that companies wishing to manufacture Blu-ray devices will now only need to attain a single license in order to do so. That’s a pretty big deal considering that 18 separate companies currently hold Blu-ray patents.

This new licensing arrangement will undoubtedly speed up the licensing process, and more importantly, will make the whole ordeal a heck of a lot cheaper for interested companies. But does this mean that we can soon expect Apple products to start shipping with Blu-ray drives?

During an informal Q&A last October, Steve Jobs was blunt in his explanation as to why Apple wasn’t keen on making Blu-ray enabled Macs anytime soon:

Blu-ray is a bag of hurt. I don’t mean from the consumer point of view. It’s great to watch movies, but the licensing is so complex. We’re waiting until things settle down, and waiting until Blu-ray takes off before we burden our customers with the cost of licensing.

Fair enough, but now that cheaper licensing costs are on the horizon, will Steve Jobs have a change of heart? Well, the bad news for Blu-ray fans is that the answer is “probably not.” The good news, however, is that there aren’t too many Blu-ray fans out there to begin with.

Despite incredible picture quality, Blu-ray hasn’t exactly taken off in the way many thought it would following the demise of HD-DVD. This is partially due to the fact that Blu-ray discs and Blu-ray players are still relatively expensive compared to DVD’s, and put simply, most people still don’t mind the DVD format. Combine that with the fact that more and more people are getting acclimated to downloading their media content online, and it all of a sudden becomes clear why Blu-ray sales have been noticeably sluggish.

Given the current inability of Blu-ray to attain a critical mass of users, Apple would have nothing to gain by putting Blu-ray drives in its computers. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the difference in picture quality between Blu-ray and DVD on a 13 inch Macbook is almost negligible compared to the obvious difference in quality you’d see on a 42 inch 1080p TV.

More important, however, is the fact that Apple wants users to access media content via iTunes so that it can continue to make inroads in the seemingly never-ending “battle for the living room.” Make no mistake about it – iTunes was instrumental in the success of the iPod and the iPhone, and Apple hopes to continue leveraging the popularity and simplicity of iTunes for future products. Put simply, if customers are reliant on iTunes for their media content, they’re naturally more inclined to purchase products that seamlessly integrate with iTunes (iPods, iPhones, Apple TV’s). And if Apple ever releases a mystical tablet or Apple branded TV, you can bet that iTunes integration will be one of the key selling points.

Blu-ray licensing may have gotten cheaper, but I doubt that anyone over in Cupertino really cares.


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Harvey Says:

    Prices for Blu-ray burners have dropped drastically in the past year. You can now buy one for under $200, and that price will drop even more this year. Same for BD-R recordable discs. Initially 25GB Blu-ray discs were over $30 each, now you can buy them for under $3 each (and prices will continue to drop). I disagree with the article. If we don’t see Macs with built-in Blu-ray burners this year, they will definitely be here next year.

  2. MacGuy Says:

    Lets hope not…

  3. macdaddy Says:

    With the DRM required by the license built into the system… lets hope not.

  4. Look_to_the_future Says:

    The point here should be that Apple should care about a format that is growing and being increasingly adopted by consumers. Blu-ray adoption is growing faster than DVD’s was back in the day. It offers quality that can not be matched by downloadable video currently (and probably for the next 15 years).

    This is just another showing of dumb-headed Apple falling behind the curve which has been happening a lot lately. It’s no surprise that their stock is languishing around a $100 after reaching $200 last year. Come on Apple… try to keep up with the times!

  5. swine Says:

    Who cares

  6. SadistiX Says:

    As leader of tech innovations, Apple should have supported Blu-ray long ago…

  7. Clark Says:

    You know, I wish Apple would put Blu-Ray drives in Macs for a different reason. I need a good format for storing loads of data. I have tons of digital files (often quite large). It’s such a pain to have to break up a project and spread it across several DVDs when I am backing it up. The DVD format is a bottleneck. I mean Apple ushered in digital video authoring for the common Joe with its iLife apps. Now how about finishing the job and giving me a way to back it all up?

  8. sarah Says:

    Who cares.

  9. Kakes Says:

    In the US, downloading is perhaps an option for a 1080p TV; you may all have access to excellent 50 Mbit/s cable broadband.

    In the UK and most of Europe, it’d take far too long to download an HD movie over a 2 MBit/s or – if you are lucky – an 8 MBit/s ADSL line.

    Blu-Ray will take over from DVD eventually. Remember how long it took people to move from purchasing movies on VHS to DVD – several years.

  10. Erik Says:

    Who cares..

  11. FLEE Says:

    What ??
    Still no Blu Ray ??
    It should at least be an option … Guess what Apple, many of us are willing to pay the pass through cost
    Those of us with money to burn will just wait around for the next round of upgrades
    Until Apple keeps up with the times, many of us will continue to refuse an upgrade until it wakes up
    Last time I bought an Apple was over 5yrs ago
    Before that I refreshed every year with either a laptop, desktop or iMac …

  12. Joe Says:

    Apple computers are High Def ready now. They have graphics, processors, memory, and displays built for HD content. They have added software support in Toast for editing and creating Blu-rays. They just need a drive…

    Now with the easier licensing, Blu-ray is coming…

    Every other computer vendor offers optional Blu-ray drives. Apple would be smart to offer it to those who want it. Sure, the market share for Blu-ray is lower than DVD, but that is changing.

    Most video cameras are all high definition now as well. If you make home movies, and edit them on a Mac, how do show them on your big TV? Downgrade to DVD? What’s the point of shooting in high def then?

    The problem with Apple is they have to micromanage and control everything. Look how long it took for the iPhone to come to Canada after in was released in the US. And then even longer before 3rd part applications were released.
    Apple wants a piece of the pie – fine. If they add Blu-ray as an option, they will make more money, period. So what’s the problem?

  13. Jonathan Says:

    As a videographer I just want to be able to use my Mac from start to finish. If I shoot in HD for a client and HD is the reason they hired me, how am I to provide them with a
    Blu Ray Disc? Blu Ray is the only format left. Apple promotes HD everything all day long but yet they are taking their time making a solution available to the market they created. When will DVD Studio Pro 5 come out with the ability to author a Blu Ray disc?
    Downloading is cool but some people like myself prefer to own the hardcopy of the movie’s I pay to watch.

  14. Hardeep Singh Kohli Says:

    Come on apple. I need blu ray now. I want to buy an imac with blu ray. I do not want to resort to using crappy windows.

  15. Shawn Says:

    I agree with Jonathan: I also shoot and edit in HD with FCP. Most of the time, projects are delivered on DVD or online, so it’s not a huge issue — but I recently got a request for a Blu-Ray version from a client, and what’s out there currently for OS X is disappointing.

    Worse, for authoring, Toast is horrible, and the Avid lineup is ridiculously expensive, leaving Adobe’s CS4/Encore… which is fine, but its an extra cost and still unwanted: I like FCP and DVD SP — why go to Adobe’s inferior UI? Why do I need an extra tool to handle something that DVD SP should be able to?

    Users of it will know that DVD SP hasn’t been upgraded significantly for the longest time… which just echoes Jonathan’s statement: Apple prides itself on creating media-bullet-proof systems, ones that are ahead of the curve, and its users have come to expect it — and pay a premium price for it too.

    Come on Apple. This is an easy win-win.

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