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Samsung quits Blu-ray players: Are we witnessing the slow death of physical media?

Samsung quits Blu-ray players: Are we witnessing the slow death of physical media?
While books and vinyl records seem to have won the battle as physical media of choice for their individual mediums, what is the equivalent for film? Laserdisc or VHS?
While books and vinyl records seem to have won the battle as physical media of choice for their individual mediums, what is the equivalent for film? Laserdisc or VHS?
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While books and vinyl records seem to have won the battle as physical media of choice for their individual mediums, what is the equivalent for film? Laserdisc or VHS?
While books and vinyl records seem to have won the battle as physical media of choice for their individual mediums, what is the equivalent for film? Laserdisc or VHS?

Last week, Samsung revealed in a statement to CNET it would cease production of Blu-ray players for the US market by the end of 2019. Despite 2018 seeing record spending on home entertainment content, sales of physical media such as DVD and Blu-ray have been dramatically declining over the past few years. Is this the beginning of the end for physical media?

"Samsung will no longer introduce new Blu-ray or 4K Blu-ray player models in the US market," was the short and succinct statement from a Samsung spokesperson to CNET last week.

Samsung is by no means the biggest player in the US Blu-ray player market. Panasonic and Sony still rule that territory, with both companies continuing to develop and manufacture high-end disc players. However, Samsung's decision to pull out of the Blu-ray player market certainly feels like a sign of an oncoming shift. A shift that is profoundly reflected in the significant sales decline of physical media over the past few years.

"The Christmas from hell"

Retailers in the United Kingdom were hit hard late last year with reports claiming DVD and Blu-ray sales in the week leading up to Christmas were down by over 30 percent compared to the same time in 2017. Kim Bayley, from Entertainment Retailers Association called it the "Christmas from hell," but perhaps most striking was the fact that overall entertainment sales in the UK actually grew by nine percent over 2018.

Streaming services, video on demand and general digital media sales are booming worldwide. In the United States, subscription streaming revenue exploded in 2018 with 30 percent growth over past 12 months alone. While overall home entertainment revenue seems to be steadily growing, consumers are steadfastly moving away from spending their money on physical media.

For the second year running disc sales in the United States have dropped by 15 percent. Across 2018, DVD and Blu-ray sales accounted for just US$4 billion, and before you remark at how large a number that is, do note that across the same period subscription streaming generated $12.9 billion.

It is clear physical media is on the decline but what is not clear is where the bottom in this falling market is, as consumers rapidly shift to streaming and VOD models. Both the music and book industries seemed to have consolidated a form of physical media as audiences return to different forms of collectable media.

Over the last couple of years there has been a fascinating upswing in book sales as the e-book trend seems to have peaked and people returned to the pleasures of the printed page. The music industry has also battled with this shift, and while streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes still reign supreme, vinyl has become the collectable physical media of choice for music fans, with year on year sales repeatedly growing.

So what is the collectable physical medium for film and television that will dominate the future market? 4K Blu-ray? Laserdisc? VHS?

In many ways the decline of physical media is a boon for corporate interests. It disrupts our traditional conception of ownership, taking away the idea of buying a copy of a film that we can permanently hold and watch, and replacing it with a temporary access pass to an abstract digital collection. This loss of real objective ownership has surely pushed a sizable amount of consumers back into buying books and vinyl records. But a book doesn't need a special player to let you read it, and while a vinyl record needs a turntable, this kind of nostalgic technology has turned into quite the object of affection for many.

Does a DVD or Blu-ray player fill you with the same sense of nostalgic warmth? In 20 or 30 years will we lovingly pull out an old DVD from the ancient collection and slip it into a crusty, barely functioning player the same way we flick through a record collection and drop it onto a turntable?

The ongoing "upgrading" of standards for physical media may have contributed to a "you don't own it" mentality in that realm as well. If you can't play your whatever-format discs because there aren't players any more, then they're useless. So why buy when things are in flux? There also was a time when physical media offered a quality advantage over the streamed versions, but not so much any more.
When people show me their priceless family and vacation pictures on digital media, I always make the comment that I hope they had some actual prints made. When they ask why, I remind them that technology is always changing and everything held on a hard drive, VHS, or DVD will eventually be lost. Even actual photo prints won't last forever but they will likely outlast any other form of storage. We recently had our favorite 100 digital photos printed out for a very reasonable bulk price. Some of the old ways are better. Right now DVDs are probably the best for old videos but for how much longer? Don't tell me the cloud because I suspect that won't be as secure as people think and over time people will forget what is even out there.
I wonder if Samsung's failure to produce a competitive Blu-ray player has as much to do with the decision as any apparent decline in physical media consumption. My own experience with a Samsung player was the proverbial "last straw" when it comes to Samsung products, and I now avoid the brand.
Mr T
I hope we are seeing the death in physical media, the insane numbers of discs created every year, plus their plastic cases etc, is a huge environmental burden. Let's face it, those discs last a few years before they start to fail (many of mine did), then they end up in landfill because recycling facilities for disc are few and far between.
If you have some images you really want to keep, just put them on a cloud server. I have important stuff in the cloud and duplicated on multiple hard drives on multiple machines, nothing short of nuclear war would be needed to eliminate all copies at once.
For those addicted to physical media, M-Disc are probably the most reliable burnable discs, but you need a compatible burner.
Mr T, I've been in the IT industry for years and I can tell you nothing digital is completely safe or secure so when something does happen to your precious media,you'll wish you had a physical backup.
My experience, so far is that streamed video is poor quality compared with a blu-ray or 4K disc. As a visually orientated person the sumptuous detail of blu-ray and 4K is an essential part of the viewing pleasure. When ever I have watched films on a streaming service, the low resolution artefacts in the background are very noticeable. It is all too common for play to halt while the buffering catches up.
I watch quite a lot of video on demand on i-Player, and that seems to work fine, and I prefer it to watching broadcast TV. I used to get the occasional stoppage but now use an ethernet cable rather than WiFi, as it is much more reliable on capacity.
I used to buy a lot of DVDs and blu-rays, but realised that I was watching once, putting them back on the shelf, and never playing them again. I now only buy exceptional videos such as the Lord of The Rings Extended Trilogy. I sold all the rest to a market stall holder.
I have recently tried a free trial with a streaming service, but found that everything that came with my monthly subscription I had either already seen or would not want to watch, and anything I wanted to watch had to be paid for. Since Love-Film closed down I get my blu-ray discs from Cinema-Paradisio, which is just like Love-Film, and for my monthly fee I get a constant supply of video, and have access to everything as it comes out on DVD, at no extra charge, plus access to a huge back catalogue.
I also have the equipment for making my own blu-ray recordings. I do not see myself giving up optical discs any time soon.