The Blu-Ray thing seems ancillary

The Thinker by Rodin

Generally, I will wait for a technology to make things cheap before I buy into it. It looks like I will be waiting quite a while for an Internet accessible cell phone, since I refuse to pay $50 a month or more for the privilege of being able to surf the web remotely on a tiny device. However, I have faith in American ingenuity. It may take another five years or so, but eventually I will ditch my delightfully dorky $10 Virgin Mobile cell phone for an internet accessible version with more features and zillions of cool apps. My price point is about $20 a month. This is about what I pay right now every quarter to Virgin Mobile, which is very affordable if you only send or receive a half dozen or so calls a month. (I do email, not phone calls.)

I bought a high definition TV a few years ago to enjoy those HD cable channels, but I was waiting for Blu-Ray disc players to come down to a price that I was willing to pay. The price finally arrived. This weekend I bought a nice souped up Samsung BD-6800 Blu-Ray player for $199 along with a Blu-Ray version of the movie Inception. I installed it last night (a surprisingly painless experience) and spent part of this afternoon configuring it.

Inception looks great on my HDTV, although I now realize our Surround Sound system is about two generations behind. With my Blu-Ray player, I could be enjoying HDMI digital sound. Instead, I have this Dolby Digital DTS sound system. Fortunately, sound systems, even for seven-channel sound are also surprisingly affordable. So this will likely be another gift for myself that I will put under the tree this year.

While refrigerators still cannot assemble a shopping list for us, my Blu-Ray player is so feature rich that its ability to play Blu-Ray discs is almost ancillary. Apparently, what I have purchased is an optimized portal for high definition and high fidelity content, agnostic about whether it comes off a disc, off the cable network, or off the Internet. In fact, I can surf the Internet with my Samsung Blu-Ray player, or at least portions of it. It took a bit of configuring, but once configured I found I could see my Picasa web photo albums on my high definition TV, courtesy of my Blu-Ray player, and its wireless card. So next time friends drop by and I want to show them pictures of our vacation, I can do so easily on my widescreen TV.

First, I had to teach it how to access our network. Our wireless network is encrypted, so the hardest part was finding our WEP key, which my wife keeps on a scrap of paper under mounds of paper on her desk. Once I had found it, it was straightforward to make the player just another device on our network.

My Blu-Ray player likes being on the Internet. Once it knew there was a network available, the first thing it did was nag me to upgrade its firmware, so I could have the latest features. This process took about five minutes. Then it started downloading all these apps. There is now no need for me to rush upstairs to my Mac to read Facebook; my Blu-Ray player will deliver Facebook to me. It will also deliver Twitter, a local forecast from Accuweather, and allow me to play Texas Holdem, should I be so inclined. (No worries there.)

The Accuweather app may actually be useful, since I may not have the patience to wait for weather on the sixes on The Weather Channel. As for the other apps, they are more to show what is possible than anything else. Lacking a real keyboard, only a masochist would try to post a tweet using the handheld remote that comes with the Blu-Ray player. I am betting though that Samsung or some third party provides a compatible wireless keyboard just in case you do want a more usable user interface.

Blu-Ray discs are nice to own, but apparently are now a somewhat antiquated means of getting high definition movies. Once the apps are installed, you can download high definition movies or DVDs from your favorite content provider. Netflix is one of many companies now in this business. To stream its movies, I don’t need to spend a hundred dollars or more for a box from Netflix. My Samsung player, like most of these players these days, is set to stream movies from Netflix or other services. I just need to upgrade my Netflix account, mess with my app settings and I am good to go.

It’s hard to imagine a media that my Samsung player cannot play. I can rule out cassettes and 8-tracks. If it’s on a disk, it can play it. Blu-Ray, DVDs, CDs, MP3s and innumerable variation of these formats are all built in. There is a convenient port for a flash drive on the front of the player as well. The only format that may frustrate me is DiVX. So many of the DiVX codexes are licensed, which means I would have to point the player to a license file. This seems an unlikely problem, as I am not aware that I have any content in a DiVX format.

How long before the Blu-Ray CD becomes obsolete, and all our movies reside somewhere either in our own personal internet cloud, on some ubiquitous terabyte hard drive in our player or somewhere on our personal network? I am starting to think that the reason my player was so cheap is that companies like Netflix and Blockbuster are subsidizing players to get my share of future business.

It looks like they will probably succeed.