Posted by: Nathan | January 18, 2009

Blu-ray and Planned Obsolescence

In case you haven’t been to Target recently and seen the display or rented a DVD and watched the preview/commercial, the Blu-ray* revolution is upon us. In the various ads for the new player that I’ve seen, I have been impressed with the improved sound and visual quality of Blu-ray movies vis-a-vis DVDs. That, of course, is the point. Blu-ray discs work with your High Definition TV to make for an amazing movie-watching experience. Additionally, they dont’ scratch as easily as DVDs, and they allow you to use the movie’s menu without stopping the film (a smart feature). So you see, I completely understand what’s so great about Blu-ray discs and players; however, I do not intend to purchase a player any time soon. Indeed, I will hold out until it is impossible to do otherwise. Why? Blu-ray is just another instance of planned obsolescence, which I hate.

blu-ray_logoWhat is planned obsolescence? It is when a company releases a new product that causes consumers to replace their “outdated” product that still works in order to have the new one. Planned obsolescence runs rampant in our culture. Think of fashion. Your jeans still fit and have no holes, but you buy new jeans because they’re in style. Jeans are a small issue, you say? Agreed. But what if companies decide to come out with a new product that replaces the product you have and makes it impossible to use your product anymore? Remember the transition from cassette tapes to CDs? You still had tapes, but the new player rendered them worthless. You had to buy your favorite music again. What about DVD replacing VHS? It wasn’t too long ago, was it? You already had movies–maybe lots of movies, but new movies weren’t being released in that format anymore. You had to buy a DVD player and replace all your old movies.

Why do companies issue new technologies that destroy the utility of their older products? You could argue it is because technology has advanced, and new products take advantage of this to ensure a more enjoyable experience. True, but the only reason companies are interested in advancing the technology is because they are making money. The movie industry makes plenty of income off of DVD sales, and now, with Blu-ray, they can improve the movie experience AND make more money. In case you don’t want to join the revolution, they phase out the old technology until you can buy it no longer. You are forced to pay more to do what you were already doing–in this case, watching movies.

If it were a simple matter of changing the format of the movies–buying Blu-ray discs instead of DVDs–it wouldn’t be so bad. I suppose I’d pay a bit more, but perhaps the improved format would offset the price increase. However, this isn’t the case. To watch Blu-ray discs, I have to buy a Blu-ray player (or a video game system that plays Blu-ray discs). If that weren’t enough, I have to buy an HD TV to fully enjoy the Blu-ray experience. HD TVs are not cheap. Once I have all that, I really ought to buy all my old movies in the new format; otherwise, I’m not enjoying them as much as I could.

In other words, I have two movie-watching options. Option 1: Buy a Blu-ray disc, a Blu-ray player, and an HD TV; take them home and install the latter two; discard my current TV and DVD player (old junk now); put the Blu-ray disc in the Blu-ray player; watch the movie (it’s high def!). Option 2: Buy a DVD; put it in my DVD player; watch the movie. Option 1 = hundreds of dollars (maybe $1000+); option 2 = around $20. Hmm, which should I choose?

The only disadvantage to option 2, the system I intend to use for as long as possible, is that it is a futile effort. In time, I will have to buy a Blu-ray player because all new movies will be released in Blu-ray format only. Maybe it will be in a year or two, but it won’t be too long. Then, I suppose I’ll find myself replacing my television as well. And after another ten or fifteen years (if that long), there will be a new, amazing movie experience that I have to be a part of, and suddenly all my Blu-ray purchases will be moot. I’ll spend more money to buy more crap I don’t need, and the other crap I didn’t need will find its way to the dump. Planned obsolescence.

So how can we fight this insidious system? Don’t buy the new stuff. I plan to stay with the DVD sytem I already use. I like watching movies, and I am impressed with the new HD technology to be sure; however, I don’t think my life will be markedly different or better if the movies I watch are in HD. Movies are a diversion only. I have plenty of other things to do to entertain myself besides watching moving pictures that make sounds. Reading War and Peace, for example, has given me dozens of hours of entertainment. Cost: $18.

I will give this much credit to the Blu-ray people: they have permitted reverse compatibility. If I buy a Blu-ray player, I can watch the DVDs I own already. Kudos to you all for that. However, I am not interested in paying more money for something I already have that still functions just fine. Keep your Blu-ray player, discs, and HD TV. Entertainment just isn’t worth that much to me.

*Would it have killed them to call them “Blue-ray” discs? What is added by eliminating the “e” in “blue” besides annoyance?


  1. I think you’re right that the improvement from DVD to Blu-ray just isn’t great enough to cause many people to spend the money to upgrade their TV’s and players. Unless TV and player prices take a steep dive, I expect new DVD’s will continue to be released for much longer than a few years.

    I disagree that we’ll see Blu-ray’s successor in ten or fifteen years. DVD was flawed from the start in that its picture was a much lower resolution than the film being used for Hollywood movies (a restriction created by the lack of HD TV technology). And while I’m no scientist or expert, it seems to me that increasing the resolution higher than the best HD TV has to offer (1080p) would only make a noticeable improvement if you’re sitting close enough to your screen (regardless of size) that you need to move your head around to see different parts. Nobody wants to do that… it’s like sitting in the front row at the movie theater. You want to be able to keep your head still and just move your eyes around (or at least only have to turn your head horizontally). Until we have a reason to make displays so big and/or sit so close to them that we need to move our heads all over the place to see everything, HD TV (and Blu-ray) has what we need.

    Additionally, streaming video over the Internet or some other network is becoming more popular all the time. Assuming American telecommunications companies can get their acts together and offer us all much faster internet, it’s more likely that your new Blu-ray player will eventually start collecting dust because you’re getting all of your movies from the Internet and your hard-drive.

  2. Arg, mine was a dumb comment. Of course we’ll see Blu-ray’s successor in ten or fifteen years… the Internet. I meant I don’t think we’ll see another “drive to store, buy a box with a movie in it, take it home, store it on a shelf” model that quickly.

  3. I’m glad you commented, Jason. I can always trust you for solid technology commentary.

    I hadn’t thought of the internet replacing Blu-ray down the road. Think I’ll definitely hang onto my DVDs till then.

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