One of the big news items at last Week’s CES was that Blu-ray appeared to have finally won the high-definition disc war. Well, it may have been a brief victory.
BD players are still pricey items, while Apple TV starts at just $229. And Blu-ray still lacks support from two major studios. Apple TV is starting small—with about 1000 films at its launch at the end of February. But all the major studios—Fox, Warner, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony (plus several minors)—have already signed on (ironic, since Sony Pictures’ parent company created the Blu-ray format). If it catches on, it could grow very fast. Remember, Apple transformed the digital music download business and could very well do the same for movies.
Critics might point out Apple’s so-so record selling TV content—especially with NBC pulling its content from the site. (Good thing I downloaded all those Battlestar Galactica episodes before that happened.) But TV is different from movies. The networks are in the business of broadcasting, whether it’s over an antenna, cable, satellite or now the Web. It wasn’t hard to predict that they would eventually want to take Internet broadcasting in-house. Movie houses, on the other hand, have always relied on other players for distribution—whether it's theaters that show first runs, stores that sell or rent DVDs or cable TV companies that broadcast or sell films on-demand. Apple is just another one of these players. If working with Apple makes them money, why wouldn’t the studios partner with Apple?
Sure, there are other movie download services—like CinemaNow, or Vudu. But Apple TV offers more. Unlike CinemaNow, it doesn’t require a computer—which few want in the livng room, no matter how well companies build Media Center PCs. And unlike Vudu, it also works with PCs for streaming music from the killer PC application, iTunes. Apple TV also lets you transfer rented movies to other devices. It doesn’t lock them inside the box as Vudu does. And Apple TV provides access to other online content like YouTube and Flickr photos.
And all of these features are way better than what you get with a Blu-ray player, which is just a one-trick disc-playing box. The appeal of Apple TV goes beyond just watching movies and plants another flag in the soil of the connected living room that electronics companies have been trying to conquer for years.
I predict that Apple will win this war, too.—Sean Captain