I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Bag of hurt

In 2008, Steve Jobs was asked1 if and when Macs would play Blu-ray movies. He responded candidly:

Blu-ray is just a bag of hurt. It’s great to watch the movies, but the licensing of the tech is so complex, we’re waiting till things settle down and Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace.

The implication is that Apple doesn’t believe that Blu-ray will ever “take off” enough for them to need to care about it, so they aren’t interested in supporting it.2

I think the last two years have confirmed that they were right.

Blu-ray is a pain in the ass, even for consumers. The major movie publishers finally got what they wanted in a home-movie medium: enough dynamic “multimedia” capabilities that they can boast “interactive” extras to sell more expensive “special editions”, enough copy protection to kill almost all casual piracy (including such innocent cases as ripping movies you own so you can play them on vacation on your iPad), and even more customer-hostile restrictions during playback to make sure that you watch every last preview, commercial, and piracy warning before viewing the movie that you “own”.

They use the word “own” when it’s convenient, like in commercials for movies that were just released on Blu-ray. “Own it today!” A marketing study probably concluded that this phrase gives people the idea that they’re paying for something concrete so they’ll pay more and won’t think to just go out and rent it. But when it comes to restrictions and copy control, they’re quick to point out that we don’t “own” anything on those discs.

While ownership is still restricted by DRM in the iTunes and Netflix worlds of online video distribution, the experience is far more permissive with far fewer hassles.

Apple’s gamble paid off: iTunes presumably sells a good volume of HD movie rentals, and there’s very little demand for Blu-ray playback on Macs. I don’t think we’ll ever see it. And I don’t think most people will notice.

I have no idea which physical medium the major movie publishers will attempt to sell us after Blu-ray, but I’m not entirely confident that one will exist at all. And given the implementation of Blu-ray, that’s a very good thing.

  1. I was reminded of this by a recent episode of Hypercritical (I think episode 8 or 9) when John Siracusa discussed it. Good show. ↩︎

  2. Blu-ray drives can be added to Macs by customers, but Apple doesn’t offer any. If you add one, it works as a data-only drive, and Finder has no trouble reading and burning data BDs. But no Mac software exists to play commercial Blu-ray movies directly from their discs.

    For the truly dedicated, Mac BlurayRipper Pro can dump the disc onto the hard drive and you can convert the directory with HandBrake if you’re willing to wait a long time. But it’s barely worthwhile.

    Even burning data BD-Rs is barely worthwhile. External hard drives with a toaster are usually a better bet for bulk removable storage. ↩︎