16 Jan 2015

Movies and TV Series Should Be Sold on USB Drives

TV series and movies should be sold (legally) on USB drives, as DRM-free files in MP4 format [1]. Many people don’t have Blu-ray drives or players, and may not consume enough physical media to make it worth buying one.


Or they may be turned off by the invasive DRM. I normally don’t buy DRM-infested media, and I’m not about to begin buying Blu-rays, because it doesn’t make sense to buy a player just for one TV series I’d like to buy. Which means, in turn, that I’m not going to buy that TV series at all. Even if I wanted to, it may not be available in my country, and I can’t buy a disc abroad due to region locking. Movie studios are driving people to piracy.


Even if someone wanted a Blu-ray, their laptop may not come with one, or have an option for one. Optical drives are also slowly becoming obsolete. Bluray is, as Steve Jobs put it, a bag of hurt.


Blu-ray also doesn’t support 4K video. The funny thing is that this happened before, with DVDs. For many years, maybe half a decade, DVDs didn’t support HD video. So, if you wanted beautiful HD video, you wouldn’t buy a DVD. It looks like the consortium behind Blu-ray didn’t learn their lesson, because we see the same mistake repeated again, with 4K content.


I wouldn’t pay for a disc that has only 1080p content. If someone is downloading video from the Internet (legally or not), I can imagine them not being particular about 4k, given low Internet data caps and download speeds, certainly in India. But when I’m paying for physical media, I expect it to be 4k.


Movie studios can fix all these problems by selling USB drives holding DRM-free files in MP4 or other commonly used format (perhaps MKV). They’d reach people who don’t have Blu-ray players, which is a huge chunk of the market for media. Even if someone has a Blu-ray player, they may want to watch a movie on their laptop, say when traveling. In general, they may find USB to be a more convenient format, since it can be played on laptops, desktops and Blu-ray players (most of which have USB ports). And directly on TVs, for that matter, which again have USB ports.


Media distributed on USB drives should be encoded at at least the bit-rate that Blu-ray uses, which is 40 mbps. Most Internet connections can’t play 40 mbps video, which requires an 80 mbps connection, adding a factor of two to avoid interruptions. But physical media has no such constraints on bandwidth or data caps, so a high bit-rate should be used [3].


Selling media on USB drives will generate additional revenue for movie studios, reach more of the market than Blu-ray does, and provide a more convenient format for users.


I doubt that the content industry is smart enough to realise this opportunity, though, given their arrogant, paternalistic attitude with DRM, and their general hostility to technology. Most likely, they’ll end up continuing to drive more people to BitTorrent.



[1] Or other commonly used format, like MKV.


[2] And a 2560 x 1600 monitor, for that matter.


[3] USB drives can also store a second copy of the media at a lower resolution, like 1080p for 4K, or 720p for 1080p, to support old computers and devices that may not be able to play the full-res version.

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