Why DVD’s Are Here To Stay (For Now…)

Posted: January 26, 2014 in Others
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There’s been a lot of talk in recent years on physical media slowly dying. More and more people are downloading media such as games, music and films onto their computers rather than buying them on a storage medium on the high street.

As a result physical storage such as CD’s and SD DVD’s are soon to be forgotten like cassette tapes are now, and only blu-ray DVD’s are thought to be the only way to sell media physically rather than downloading. Even now some computing manufacturers are even considering making their machines without a disc drive built in. Apple’s new iMac doesn’t have one as they argue that “these old technologies are holding us back”. Microsoft even had discussions on whether to make the new Xbox One completely disc free but decided against it because it would “create issues”.

This media shift from physical to digital is due to mainly two things: the increased speeds of the internet and the vastly increased storage capacities. Eventually discs will be phased out but not as soon as some may believe…

WHEN DID IT ALL START?

Digital media started to grow once broadband was available at the start of the 21st century which proved to be extremely popular. Broadband (which is the marketing term for this type of internet) had various advantages including much faster downloads, allowed users to “always” be connected and didn’t interfere with the phone lines. As expected, more and more people across the globe switched from dial-up to broadband internet. According to the OECD, in the year 2000 under 20m broadband connections in OCED countries compared to 150 dial-up connections. By 2004 they were both at 130m each and by 2010, broadband connections were over 300m while dial-up decreased to below 30m.

As for portable media players, flash memory technology improved enough for them to be built in with sufficient memory. Apple and its iPod and iTunes in the beginning on the 21st century became the most dominant force. The first iPod unveiled in 2001 had up to 10GB which showed that you could have thousands of songs in a small digital portable device. iTunes (which launched 2 years later in 2003) worked with the iPod and desktop computers that allowed users to download songs and videos rather than purchase them on CD’s and DVD’s respectively. After that there was media players built into mobile phones. Arguably Sony Ericsson was the most successful with their sub-brand “Walkman” range. These phones had a emphasis on its media player rather than other features like the camera and screen resolution.

Walkman phones such as the W810i proved to be extremely popular

Walkman phones such as the W810i proved to be extremely popular

As for gaming, the broadband internet allowed manufacturers like Sony and Microsoft to not only allow gamers to compete with their friends online but also eventually to download games directly onto their PC’s and consoles rather than purchasr them in stores. Sony launched its online services in 2001 in Japan (2002 in North America and 2003 in Europe) and Microsoft followed suit with their service called “Xbox Live” in 2002. At first due to restrictions on hard drive space and memory cards, only “add-ons” were available for downloads but eventually full games were offered as well in the 2nd half of the 2000’s.

Eventually there was another type of digital data that was introduced – Streaming. Streaming is when a video or audio file is being played over the internet via a server. Advantages of streaming rather than downloading include instant playback and no additional hard drive space needed. However, downloading the video or audio file would allow you to play it regardless if you’re online or offline – streaming requires a fast and constant internet connection. Companies such as Netflix and Spotify are known to provide these services.

THE HERE AND NOW

Today technology is still moving a rapid rate and more and more individuals are aware of the advantages to digital media compared to physical media. It’s almost a win-win situation since for firms it’s cheaper to create, develop, publish and promote media digitally. For the users, it’s much easier to get the video and audio files since you can do it in the comfort of your own home rather than going to the local town centre. Also for users, there’s much less actual “floor space” to worry about. Even as much as 1,000 albums can be stored on a USB stick as small as an average male’s thumb if those files were downloaded. If that amount of music was physical in a CD format, it would require a lot more space.

As a result, every year sales of digital media have gone up while physical media has slowly decreased. According to the BBC, an analysis conducted by the ERA (Entertainment Retailers Association) on sales in the entertainment industry confirms that trend continues.

Media sales in 2013 compared to 2012

Media sales in 2013 compared to 2012

Music: Audio files tend to take a lot less hard drive space compared to video and gaming files. However, physical and digital total sales figures are around the same with 50% each in the music industry in 2013. Compared to 2012, streaming rose by 33.7% and now accounts for nearly 10% of all music. Downloaded digital audio files still rose in 2013 but only by 3.5% because of streaming. Its total sales accounted for around 40% (not including streaming). Physical fell by over 7%.

Video: Even though digital video sales rose by 40% and physical went down by 6.8% compared to 2012, in total digital (including streaming) was only 30% of the total video sales in 2013. Physical media is still the popular option due to Blu-Ray discs.

Gaming: No raw stats available but judging from the graph, physical media sales was around the same in 2013 at £1bn but digital increased by around 20%. The rise in digital gaming was most likely due to more individuals owning smartphones and tablets that have games available in the respective online marketplace/app store.

Despite the increases in digital sales, physical media still accounts for over half of the total entertainment media sales at 56%.

DISADVANTAGES TO DIGITAL

Even though there’s various advantages towards digital media for not only the consumer but also the firms, there are a few limits;

– Limits On Internet Speeds

Even though broadband internet allows consumers to download music files in seconds and video and games in minutes, one of the factors that depends on how quick the file downloads is the location. A chart generated by Ofcom shows that in the UK, Luton, Bedfordshire has a much faster internet speed (almost 3 times as quick) compared to Aberdeen. For those in the north of Scotland, downloading music files could take hours and video and gaming files could even take days. This long process might tempt users to physically purchase music, videos and games in stores. Streaming requires an internet connection that’s fast and also constant so this might not be an option for those with a poor network. Recently there’s been tests that have shown internet speeds up to 1.4Tb/s – over 100,000 times faster than what Aberdeen has now – which is enough to transmit 44 HD films in a single second.  However, this won’t be available for many years so DVD’s might be the best option for those in some locations in the country.

– Limits On Hard Drive Space

In terms of how big the file is on your hard drive, a typical music track would be around 4-5MB and videos in SD format would be around 700-1200MB. Computers these days tend to have at least 250GB available which would be enough to store a complete collection, and mobile phones can have as much as 64GB which would be enough to carry your favourites on the move. However, if a user wanted to have HD quality videos, this could limit the amount stored on the hard drive. A 1080p full HD movie could take as much space as 25GB so with a hard drive of only 250GB, there would only be room for 10 films. This is also bearing in mind formatting the hard drive (which usually takes around 5-12% of the total hard drive space for PC’s) and other media and programs aren’t taken into account. Of course the simple solution would be to get an external hard drive since some are available with 3TB although this would be an added cost. To makes matters worse, 4K/UHD (Ultra High Definition) is the next generation of picture quality which is already available, and uncompressed these files could be around 500GB. There are currently tests that show DVD’s that can store as much as 1TB but the biggest external hard drive in stores would be around 4TB. There’s still a lot of time before these 4K/UHD films will be available on the high street but unless HDD’s storage space increase dramatically, users might be forced to use physical media for top quality video files.

For gaming the situation is a lot worse. Sony and Microsoft both made a statement that all games released on their console will be available digitally (some exclusively digital). Despite their consoles only launched 2 months ago and both offering 500GB (around 360-410GB once formatted), there have been tests showing that the hard drives can be filled with only a few number of games. Games such as NBA 2K14 and Call Of Duty: Ghosts can take as much as 43.6GB and 39.5GB respectively on the Xbox One. On the PS4 NBA 2K14 and Killzone: Shadow Fall can take as much as 46GB and 39GB respectively. Doing the math means you could potentially have no more space available after only 8 games. Of course on the PS4 you can upgrade the hard drive but this isn’t official and can cause problems and there’s no way to transfer all the data from one hard drive to another. For course there are storage management solutions, but unless Sony and Microsoft make versions of their latest console with at least 2TB then physical media might be the only option if you want to make a large game collection.

The PS4 and Xbox One both had their hard drives filled very easily

The PS4 and Xbox One both had their hard drives filled very easily

– Limits on Consumer Confidence

Even though digital media has the advantage of having your whole collection on a computer rather than a storage shelf so it saves space, there is the issue of consumer confidence. Not being able to hold on to its case or seeing the CD or DVD physically might cause concern for some users, especially those who don’t know how to use the latest gadgets and find them confusing to operate. According to the ONS (Office of National Statistics), the latest figures show that out of 50,832,000 UK residents, over 7 million of them have never used the internet – which is nearly 1 in 7 (13.8%). Knowing how to use the internet is one thing, but knowing how to download music and movies is another so that figure could be a lot more. These users may just prefer to “stick with what they know” and purchase physical media. There’s also the subject of buying a music album, game or movie as a gift which could be a lot more meaningful given in person in a case rather than a forwarded e-mail confirmation regarding the downloaded file. In these examples, the physical media might be the better option.

– Limits on Resale Value

Another problem with digital media is the issue of trying to resell it when you’re finished with it. High street stores such as GAME and CeX offer cash and exchange prices for unwanted media as long as it’s in a physical format (and in good enough resalable condition) such as a DVD or cartridge. If these movies or games were stored digitally you won’t be able to get anything back for it if you wanted to get rid of it which is a limiting factor. For example, FIFA 14 on the PS4 can be sold or exchanged to CeX for £32 or £36 respectively (as of 26/01/2014). If this game was downloaded on the console instead there would be no way earn anything back and you would lose out on at least £32.

Digital media clearly has more advantages than physical media and will probably replace it completely in the future. However, as we’ve seen it will take a number of obstacles to overcome in order to make this happen – therefore it won’t be in a few years as some may believe.  It will happen just not anytime soon…

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