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.