Netflix and the Bucket of Formats

DVD is old and busted. HD DVD and Blu-ray are the new hotness. I don't really believe that, but none the less, the new formats are here and they bring some interesting problems with them.

In January, Netflix announced that it will support both HD DVD and Blu-ray when the formats are released. HD DVD players are on the market and a small selection of movies are now available. Netflix is making good on their promise and offering HD DVD titles at no additional costs.

If you have a Netflix account, you can enable it for HD with a wizard in your account settings.

I think it is nice that Netflix confirms that yes, you really want to receive HD DVDs, and have the necessary equipment to watch them. I don't have the necessary equipment and really don't care to buy it at the moment, but I went through the process because I was curious :)

Finally, we get to the most interesting part. How will you choose what format your movies arrive in? Netflix is currently offering two options. You can either always add the HD version when available, or you can always add the standard format.

Netflix is even nice enough to switch the desired format on movies in your queue to HD if that's what you want. It is nice that Netflix offers the option to always add the HD version when available, but I think these preferences will need to evolve. What happens when Blu-ray movies start shipping? Will you have to choose your HD format of choice? I guess that makes sense, but do people care more about the format or do they care more about the movie?

If the MP3 age has taught us anything, it should be that convenience trumps quality. For many people, there is a point of good enough and they really don't care about better quality. Since MP3, WMA, and AAC at medium bitrates are good enough for most people, I'd say that DVD is good enough for movies too. Because of this, I think Netflix needs to add a "First Available" option in their format preference. This would be just like when you go to a resturant. Smoking, non, or first available. Sometimes you are hungry enough to put up with the smoke (not me), and sometimes you want to see the movie as soon as you can and you don't really care if it is just in DVD quality.

First available will create some logistics challenges for Netflix. I'd imagine there will be pockets of the country that adopt HD DVD and Blu-ray sooner than others. I'm guessing folks in San Jose will buy more HD DVD players than folks in Springfield (you pick the state). I'd also imagine that Netflix won't be stocking as many HD copies as the SD copies for years to come. So what's a movie lover in the midwest supposed to do? Wait forever for discs shipped from the west coast, or will they want to just see it on whatever format is available? Sure, you can manually go in to your queue and select the format you want to receive, but that doesn't sound like fun and will the disc availability change based on the format you choose? I'd like to think it would, but who knows if Netflix enables that sort of detail to the users. The point is, they don't have to, they can just let us choose first available and keep the secret sauce recipe in the vault.

First available Netflix, make it happen!

1 comment:

Jason said...

Agreed, I'm glad to see Netflix providing these options. I also think the first available is lacking. I'm guessing they don't anticipate many people having the HD players yet, and that those who do will be elitists who will no longer watch SD.