I want to stop using CDs and DVDs but the lack of a standardized digital media platform is keeping disc-based content delivery around. While the 40-and-under crowd could probably live without discs, we have two generations of people ahead of us that just won’t get there. Of course, that means we’ll probably be burning discs for the next 15-20 years and keeping a should-be-legacy format alive.
This is all the fault of a fragmented consumer electronics industry that has failed its customers in providing a standardized digital media delivery platform in the same vein as it did with 78rpm records, 8-tracks, cassette tapes, VHS, CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray media and players. If you bought a cassette tape from any publisher, it played in your Sony Walkman. The same was true with CDs, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray media and players.
Along the way, we had format wars like VHS vs. Betamax and Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD but eventually a consensus was achieved and we had a standard. Now, we have a hodge-podge of digital media formats with no standardized delivery method. There is no format war . . . just tons of formats.
We have dozens of video streaming apps and hundreds, if not thousands, of video- and file-sharing services. Unfortunately, those apps and services don’t come close to penetrating the market as deep as VHS and DVD players managed. Now, our myriad of options has led to the curse of death by a thousand cuts for content creators.
Last week, I needed to get a video clip to an older lady who wanted to show it to her mother. The clip was already available online in two locations. I could also Dropbox it to her. None of these worked because the only method she had for watching it was on her TV . . . with a DVD player attached.
So what did I do? I created a standard defintion DVD from a 1080p video clip and the lady was ecstatic – as I died inside a little.
We need the equivalent of a DVD/Blu-ray standard for digital media delivery and playback.
There are countless ways to get your digital media onto your TV but there is no universal way to do so. Moreover, many of the methods of doing so are locked to a single manufacturer’s devices. For example, Apple’s iPhones work great with sending video to the Apple TV set-top box but not so much with a Roku. The same can be said for many Chromecast-enabled TVs and some Android phones. Even then, what if the media is on your computer, a thumb drive or a memory card?
Many manufacturers have tried (and are still trying) to make digital media work on their devices. Many (most?) TVs on store shelves today have a USB port for reading digital media off a thumb drive. Some manufacturers do better than others at (1) file compatibility and (2) user-friendly interfaces.
Some set-top boxes have developed import methods that are better than others. None of them work universally. Nearly all of the ways of doing so require digging into a multi-step set of instructions and hoping you have properly formatted files.
There are several media management platforms that do an admirable job of dealing with a variety of media and formats. Plex is a tool that comes to mind and one that I personally use. However, this is hardly a standard and some of the setup and troubleshooting can be quite technical.
The simplicity of (1) eject tray, (2) insert disc, (3) press play is long gone.
But that’s the nut that the consumer electronics industry has to crack.
With all the innovation in image quality from cameras to HDR 4K TVs to VR and beyond, we have to figure out a way for everyone to see it. That can’t be limited to watching Sony-created content on a Sony TV or sharing iPhone content with other Apple users.
How do you transfer your movies purchased on Apple TV to your Roku device? What about on Ultra-violet (did you know this was a thing)? Can you import those to your Plex library? How do you show your grandmother a school play that’s been archived on the PTA’s website? Or maybe you have a video of your martial arts competition on your camera that you want to send to your uncle?
All these tasks can be achieved but none of them are simple for the average consumer.
If you doubt this statement, think about how many people actually screenshot an image that’s already on their phone in order to share it via messaging or social media.
The amount of technical knowledge required to playback media across a range of varying manufactures’ TVs is unacceptable – particularly for older generations.
In the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, brands came together to create a standard that everyone can benefit from – including (and most importantly) the consumer. We are long overdue for a new standard for digital media playback in the living room. The responsibily lies on the joint efforts of Sony, Samsung, Apple, Roku and Amazon, among others, to make this happen for the benefit of consumers and the industry.
Or maybe, and I’m afraid this is more likely, we just play forget the consumer and maximize profits by driving our direct customer base to a locked-down DRM’ed ecosystem that shuns outside platforms and laughs at the idea of an industry standard. If that’s the case, I’m still afraid manufacturers and content creators are chasing short-term gains and missing out on a long-term, revolutionary win.
Do you still use disc-based media for clients, friends or family? What’s your solution to sharing digital media with non-technical consumers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Adrian V says
It seems to me the most standard of formats for sharing images or video between mobile devices and tablettes and cameras is both micro SD and standard SD cards (for removable data).
For a video format, it looks like MP4 still is the most universal format usable in most devices, despite that being plenty of other formats out there such as MOV, MKV etc., MP4 is the most accepted for video. For music MP3 is the most common, and WAV for uncompressed format is still common from earlier generations still used for prestine non degraded quality used by some editors, but MP3 is the better for variable compression rates when you want compression and small file sizes.
Eric Reagan says
You can use a SD card in your iPhone? What about your TV? Or your parents’/grandparents’ TV?
If it’s 720p, 1080/60p or 4K video, will any microSD or SD card work? Or, do you need a UHS-I or UHS-II bus, or maybe a Class 10 or U3 speed rating?
My wife has no idea what MP4, MKV and MOV mean. She probably couldn’t explain the technical difference between a DVD and Blu-ray player.
Just because creative pros understand the “standards” doesn’t mean the average consumer understands… and that’s the problem.
Bipin B. Gupta says
M-Discs – akin to the Blu Ray format – were introduced some 2 to 3 years back. These discs were promised to last for a Thousand Years and virtually indestructible.
However they require a special brand of Blu Ray Burners and will not play on all computers or DVD Players. But almost all Blu Ray Players produced from 2016 should be able to play them. And as these get Standardized M-Discs can become a good Media to Backup Photos, Videos and Music – for ever.
And M-Discs come in 25 GB to 100 GB – plenty of storage.
Bob Cooley says
I haven’t used optical (CD/DVD) based in years now. Most clients don’t want them.
They expect to receive files on thumb drives, or for larger collection of files (above a TB of content) on portable USB hard drives.
Many computers (I’m looking at you, Apple) that creators use don’t even have optical drives in them anymore.
As for quick views on TV sets, almost all modern TVs come with a USB port built in with media support for most container types (.mov, .mp4 .mkv, etc.) and will automatically play your folder of photos as a slideshow. Its a feature that’s often not widely advertised, but it exists on most TVs since 2012. Some Blu-Ray players (and other media players like Apple TV, Roku, and many cable boxes) also support direct feed USB.
USB has pretty much become the standard. Unless you own a newer MacBook, then you need a dongle.
Charles Mohapel says
I used to argue for films and TV shows on Blu0ray discs and DVDs over digital downloads. Then Amazon and Apple ***arbitrarily*** deleted downloads that people paid to ***own*** with no warning, no replacements, and no compensation. May They ROT IN HELL!!!
Mark Alfson (aka forkboy1965) says
I remain, perhaps needlessly so, concerned about sharing files via USB thumb drives. I don’t know if the manufacturers (either intentionally or not) have embedded some sort of spyware, etc. Makes me nervous. I feel safer with disc media in this regard.
I suppose we need one ring to rule them all, so to speak. But no company wants to be on the losing end of that solution. Until enough band together to have serious marketplace weight, we’re doomed to this problem continuing.