WASHINGTON. Just when you thought your audio-video hardware and media choices were safe. South Korean media hardware and chip-manufacturing giant Samsung Electronics recently announced it has decided to get out of the business of manufacturing its own Blu-ray / DVD players, at least in the US market.
Samsung Electronics exiting the Blu-ray player market
According to ArsTechnica, Samsung Electronics apparently will “introduce no new Blu-ray players anywhere” to export markets worldwide.
“[And Samsung] will stop making existing players for the US market. This comes as a confirmation of what many observers expected, given that the company last released a new player in 2017. Samsung was reportedly working on a high-end Blu-ray player for release in 2019, according to Forbes, but those plans have been scrapped.”
ArsTechnica notes potential reasons for Samsung’s seemingly surprising decision to exit the Blu-ray and “regular way” DVD markets. And, by implication, the audio CD market as well.
Not just about video. Audio formats rapidly changing as well
“Samsung’s Blu-ray players lacked Dolby Vision HDR support and relied instead on HDR-10 or the Samsung-backed HDR-10+. This was an important omission for the target audience; Dolby Vision is attractive to home theater enthusiasts because of its theoretically superior specifications and because it allows moviemakers to more finely tune the experience as compared to HDR-10.
“Most people probably don’t care about the differences between HDR-10 and Dolby Vision, but if anyone does, they’re buyers of UltraHD Blu-ray players who may feel that the bitrate of content streamed from Netflix, Amazon, or Apple is inadequate for their setups.”
If the trend is your friend, as marketing gurus often contend, then current media trends, particularly with regard to entertainment media consumption, are not friendly to the dwindling number of manufacturers still offering a selection of Blu-ray players. Samsung Electronics duly noted the trend and reacted accordingly.
Three main culprits: Commoditization, consumer indifference and streaming video
In the first place, the Blu-ray / DVD market long ago became commoditized, driving retail prices down to near-breakeven for manufacturers.
Second, in general, current rising generations of consumers have no real grasp of or desire for top quality audio and video. The kind you can get from today’s best playback equipment and standalone media receivers. If it’s simple and if it works, that’s what they’ll buy. Particularly in audio, there’s no longer much education going on in today’s remaining showrooms regarding the improvements you’re likely to get using better quality playback equipment.
But ultimately, the name of the game in 2019 and beyond is clearly streaming video, which is now available via an increasing number of viciously competitive services. These include the current King of Streaming Video, Netflix (trading symbol: NFLX). But they also include offerings from Dish Network’s (DISH) SlingTV, Amazon Prime (AMZN), the new streaming service from Roku (ROKU), newly announced services from Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS) and, of course, Hulu.
Add to this the growing number of major network streaming services and perhaps dozens of free “bit players” in the streaming business like Tubi. And soon, it’s easy to see the extent of the problem facing manufacturers of boxes handling “hard” media disks. Samsung Electronics just chose to walk away, leaving very few players remaining.
Pretty good streaming video choices are “good enough”
Part of streaming video’s popularity is the simple, appealing fact that consumers will need one less box to purchase and install. Streaming video consumers in the main don’t consider the superior audio-video quality provided by the Blu-ray disk format and even via normal, everyday DVDs to be worth the hassle or the investment.
It’s much like the generation-ago choice of buying a Microsoft-based PC or ponying up considerably more dollars to buy a more elegant and easier-to-use Macintosh computer. Sure, the early Windows interface offered by Microsoft was clunky and difficult to use, at least for non-computer science users. But Microsoft-based boxes were cheap and “good enough” for dealing with everyday chores.
And “good enough” is apparently good enough for today’s video consumers. Hence, the drop-off in sales of Blu-ray / DVD boxes. And the concurrent drop-off in sales of disk-based entertainment media as well.
Remember vinyl? And Betamax?
What may eventually occur in this industry is the same thing that happened decades ago to audiophiles when early CD media rapidly overcame and nearly wiped out vinyl LPs. Expensive playback equipment remained available to audiophiles who preferred “purer” formats.
But cheapness and utility won out, eventually bifurcating the audio market into those who could and would afford to pay the high dollar for high-quality sound and those with much smaller budgets who either didn’t know or didn’t care that more money would buy them a much higher-quality experience.
And, as with everything else in the 21stcentury, consumers in the middle, who wanted high quality audio-video but didn’t quite possess the earning power to pay for it generally had to go for the lower quality product.
Complicating the current video playback environment further has been the ongoing problem of continually evolving formats. Just as VHS eventually overcame the SONY Betamax tape cartridge format in video, essentially obsoleting consumers who bet on the SONY format, so, too, are this century’s continuing format wars, which essentially do the same thing. Samsung Electronics apparently saw this kind of future ahead for its playback hardware. And, sadly and wisely, chose to opt out.
In our modern era, things just have a way of evolving too fast, causing trouble for consumers who dive in to a new technology before they can see where it’s going. Or not.
Technology sometimes evolves too quickly
Today’s hardware purchasers now need to worry about having players that can accommodate the newer 4K HDR Blu-ray format. The older ones won’t work. Worse, newly-evolving audio formats may not be available on even relatively new disk players. This can easily obsolete even some of the newest models. That’s another issue that caused corporate indigestion at Samsung, according to a piece appearing in Home Theater Forum.
“Samsung did not specifically reveal its reasons for leaving the product space, but our readers will have noticed that HDR10+ and Dolby Vision features were conspicuous in their absence from its recent offerings.”
What if what you want isn’t available via streaming video?
One issue rarely discussed in media and device format wars is this one. What can you do if what you want to see or hear isn’t available in any streaming format? We’re talking about vintage movies and old TV shows dating back to that technology’s infancy. Neither Netflix nor many other services even bother to offer these choices.
Or, in Netflix’ case, this wide-ranging sub-genre was offloaded to “DVD.com.”
Currently a bolt-on service, this wholly-owned subsidiary Netflix could spin off at some point. That could force consumers to add the second service to Netflix streaming. Doubtless at additional cost.
Amazon Prime’s corporate profligacy can solve that issue to some extent. That service offers an astonishing array of normally DVD-only available content. Plus a lot of D-grade video clutter. So there’s at least one partial alternative to the creeping abandonment of vintage film and TV content.
What if you want higher-quality audio and video?
So what can audio-video consumers seeking greater variety and higher quality output do to stay in the game? Near term, the answer is relatively easy. Longer term, it’s anybody’s guess. ArsTechnica highlights choices that still remain in the currently shrinking Blu-ray / DVD universe now that Samsung Electronics is departing.
“Sony and Panasonic currently lead in the Blu-ray player market, and they have not announced plans to discontinue production. Samsung may have made this decision in response to its competitors’ market dominance, not just the shrinking marketplace for physical media. And it probably doesn’t help that the widely owned PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game consoles are also perfectly adequate Blu-ray players for most consumers.”
You can find more info on this topic via ArsTechnica here. CNet provides a limited list of the best current Blu-ray / DVD media choices for 2019 here.
Avid consumers of audio and video media will gradually confront a binary choice in coming years. They’ll either need to pay through the nose for updated but hard-to find equipment. Or, like most other consumers, they’ll just have to settle for “good enough.”
One bright spot remains. “Good enough” today is a lot better than it used to be. But with a bigger budget, you can still do better.
– Headline image: Via Wikipedia entry on Blu-ray and image caption: Seven movies on Blu-ray, mid-February 2016.
Caption notes “Samsung $400 4K Blu-ray player also limited released and apparently sold out.” Image CC 4.0 licensed.