According to a press release out today, even the record-breaking sales of Avatar haven't lifted Blu-ray out of the doldrums. Screen Digest reports that, "A combination of a slower-than-expected fall in retail prices and the impact of the worst economic recession in living memory ensured that – unlike in the US – sales of Blu-ray hardware failed to live up to expectations in the key international markets in 2009. Furthermore, those homes that did acquire a BD player or PS3 by the end of the year bought fewer Blu-ray Discs (BDs) than anticipated – less than 1.5 titles per household on average. For many people, it seems, DVD remains ‘good enough’ for most titles and the additional cost of opting for a hi-def BD version simply cannot be justified in the current climate of austerity."
Now I've been hi-def now for a while, my collection of Blu-rays is steadily growing, and I love it. It's beautiful, it sounds good, and I'm even liking the blue plastic boxes. But I think I've already identified a reason why the wider film-loving public hasn't thrown their DVD players to the wind and signed up en masse to this ace new technology. And it's not the players being expensive (they're not, anymore) or the discs being pricey (although that's still true relative to DVD) or the fact that key films still aren't out on the format (Star Wars, where are you?). I don't even think it's just down to the recession or having less disposable income. I think people are just worried that they're being taken for fools.
Here's the thing: VHS was around for the guts of 20 years before DVD came along and thoroughly outclassed it. It's been less than 10 years since DVD really took over, and some of us are still only just getting around to replacing all our old titles (heck, I still don't own Grosse Pointe Blank on DVD, so I haven't seen it in waaaay too long). Blu-ray's been in the works since the ink was dry on the "DVD sales hit one million" news stories, and there's an argument that it's just been too quick. People don't see as radical a difference this time around to justify that new investment: sure, Blu-ray's decidedly better if you have a big shiny TV, but to the untrained eye it doesn't appear to be the quantum leap that VHS-to-DVD was.
What's more, when DVD came in with all its bells and whistles and extras, the irritating practice of double-dipping releases really got going. You could buy the first release disc, with maybe a trailer on it and an animated menu, but a few months later would come the Special Edition, then the Collector's Edition, then the Ultimate Super-Duper-We're-Not-Kidding-You-Need-This-Edition, and consumers would find themselves continually assaulted by the feeling that the version they had was only for rubes. Having bought some discs two or three times already, people aren't prepared to upgrade again. They're already feeling hard done by.
And studios aren't helping themselves either. Blu-rays are big enough that they can hold as much information as you can throw at them - standard-setting releases like Blade Runner: Final Cut or Close Encounters come packed with every conceivable version of the film and every possible extra to boot. In other words, not just the standard DVD extras from the most recent release (or even a longer-ago release, or even fewer extras than the DVD boasted, as is the case with some Blu-rays) but specially-cut new material or long forgotten snippets. I know there's been a rush to get some films on to Blu-ray to boost the selection, but we need all discs to be up to this standard to make it worth shelling out for.
And worryingly, elsewhere on Blu-ray, the double-dipping has started again. At least one recent major studio release already has a standard and a Deluxe edition, and frankly that's irritating. Now I'm sure there's some explanation for it - maybe the studio committed to a day-and-date release with the DVD and then not all the extras were ready - but it risks turning people off. Enough Blu-ray releases have been pushed back or delayed that it's hardly an unprecedented move to hold it back and pack stuff on if something like that was the reason, and if you've got leftovers, heck, that's what the BD Live function is for: to allow you to add in material later and give users more value for their money. The relative lack of extra goodies on the potentially-ace BD-Live, while we're on the subject, doesn't exactly do the cause any good either. Double-dipping destroys consumer goodwill and irritates the serious fans who are your highest consumers.
So Hollywood and Techno-ville, please note. If you want us to invest in your new toys, please, for the love of Zeus, give us something in return. Promise us that we will only ever need one Blu-ray for each film, and that they will therefore represent value for money and a return on our investment as well as ace picture and sound. Promise us that the extras will be spiffier and better and will include every extra previously released. Do that, and film fans all over will sign up with happy hearts and buy every disc you throw at them. Everybody wins; I promise.