Apple Everywhere

No Apple Blu-ray: It's a Good Thing

- 2010.08.09 - Tip Jar

The first thing newbie Mac buyers find out about their usually $1,000-plus devices is that they don't support Blu-ray - if they didn't check their specs first, that is.

Right after that, they discover they can't run their Windows programs (without WINE or a copy of Windows), but after a quick analysis of some Google search results, that's minor compared to the torture of not being able to watch Blu-ray movies.

Given the still-changing state of the Blu-ray standard, Macs should not support Blu-ray just yet. Once Blu-ray settles down a bit, maybe, but at present, Blu-ray on a Mac is just not a good idea.

Here's why.

BDXL

Everybody loves the idea of watching a 3D movie at home. Can you blame them? The Nintendo 3DS looks awesome enough as it is - I can't imagine what a 30" or 40" 3D TV would be like.

However, our newfound love of straining our eyes to see virtual stereoscopic 3D video comes with a cost (besides that potential visit to the optometrist). Since stereoscopic 3D requires two images to be merged into one, 3D movies occupy twice the disk space of a traditional disk. Hence, BDXL.

BDXL is Blu-ray doubled. Blu-ray discs have two layers; BDXL discs have four. Blu-ray discs have a capacity of 50 GB, BDXL discs have a capacity of 100 GB to 128 GB. Seems straightforward enough, and yes, it is: the extra layers allow 3D movies to fit on a single disc. However, the hardware required to read a BDXL is different, due to the two additional disc layers. Traditional Blu-ray players cannot read the extra two layers - which is very convenient for manufacturers wanting to sell new hardware, but more than a little irritating for consumers.

Blame

Consumers never seem to blame themselves for rakishly buying something as soon as it hits the market, nor do they blame the companies who develop new technologies that render their brand new Blu-ray players obsolete. They also don't blame the component manufacturer, the ones who builds optical drives.

No, they blame the OEMs, the companies that develop nice little enclosures for the drives and sell them to consumers.

Wouldn't an iMac, MacBook, or Mac mini qualify as an enclosure for a Blu-ray drive? You've got it! Since Apple is an OEM, they would get the blame for selling consumers a computer with a crucial component that's outdated before its time.

Balancing Risk and Gain

Apple is smart (most of the time, at least ). It usually knows when to embrace a new innovation and when to wait to see how it develops. Apple jumped on USB shortly after it was created, because it was a hardware standard that could easily be made backwards compatible, and it promised to relieve a large number of problems in connectivity. There was a little risk and a lot to gain.

Blu-ray, however, offers little gain and a lot of risk. Blu-ray has not hit the mainstream computer market as software media yet, so its only major use would be for movies and games - both of which can be had through other, less mutable means (iTunes, anyone?). Storage media moved from optical discs to external hard drives, flash drives, and the budding Cloud a long time ago, leaving Blu-ray without a market in that area.

Without any logical reason to adopt Blu-ray, Apple wisely chose to watch and wait.

That decision probably saved Apple from a market fiasco as big as "antennagate". Can you imagine what would happen if Macs shipped with Blu-ray drives, which were then rendered obsolete by BDXL? If a sizable number of consumers bought Macs just for Blu-ray movie-playing capabilities (think Mac mini here), the BDXL standard would outmoded them in a frighteningly short amount of time. And Steve Jobs would be prodded and poked to announce a free, or at least cheap, upgrade to BDXL drives for all Mac mini and iMac users, and Apple would have to build a software update to handle the new drives, possibly screwing something else up in the process.

The headache would be enormous.

Better Judgment

How fortunate for everyone that Apple has not adopted the Blu-ray standard. Even though this pits the ever-popular optical disc against the iTunes Store and its web-based brethren, Apple has avoided a major fiasco and can continue to focus on making dependable, user-friendly computers and mobile devices, rather than issuing expensive upgrades and updates as bandage solutions to bad market decisions. LEM

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Austin Leeds is a Mac and iPad user - and a college student in Iowa.

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