Blu-ray Can't Win Favor With PC Buyers, May Not Ever

News flash: Blu-ray adoption on PCs is still awfully sluggish. And we're talking about years after the format was introduced, and over a year since it trampled HD DVD to become the lone supported next-gen high-def video format. Why? The answer is pretty simple, really. Cost and necessity.

A new research report from iSuppli digs into the reasoning behind the sad truth: Blu-ray just isn't moving the meter on PCs. While the sales of standalone Blu-ray Disc players and PS3 consoles have risen, just 3.6% of PCs shipped in 2009 have BD support. Just think about that. Not even four out of every 100 computers shipped this year have a Blu-ray player/writer in it. That's pretty astonishing if you ask us, but it's a little less surprising if you really consider the circumstances surrounding such a figure.

First, think about the current economy. Things are definitely getting better, but folks still believe that a BD player/writer is an acceptable "skip" when it comes to buying a new desktop or notebook. Plus, the sales of netbooks are way up, and given that they usually have no optical drive at all, that helps to push the percentage of BD-equipped PCs down even further. Now, think about industry support for DVD. DVD is still supported everywhere; new movie releases are still published on DVD, blank DVD media is still cheap, and a single blank DVD can just about hold whatever you need it to. In 2009, we still haven't reached a point where the average consumer really needs 50GB of optical storage on a single disc. Maybe in 2020 things will be different, but today, 4.7GB per layer is plenty.

Then there's cost. Coupled with the fact that most folks view Blu-ray drives on PCs as a luxury item, the high cost of BD drives isn't helping the cause. While standalone players have slowly slipped below the $200 threshold, BD optical drives are still a few hundreds dollars at best. In a world of $300 - $600 midrange notebooks and $200 nettops, that's just too high. Even on high-end gaming notebooks like Alienware's M17x, a prospective buyer would either have to have a ravishing love for BD movies or really, really need to store large amounts of data on disc to justify the extra cost. Think about it: if it comes down to spending an extra $150 on an SLI GPU setup or $150 to upgrade that DVD writer to a BD writer, which are you more likely to do?

Having an outdated GPU in a gaming notebook just feels wrong; having a speedy dual-layer DVD writer in one still feels right. One could argue that Blu-ray is a few years ahead of its time on PCs, and we'd argue that they are right. The iSuppli team estimates that the 3.6% of BD-equipped PCs in 2009 will scoot up to 16.3% in 2013; even still, that's a paltry increase for a four year period. One has to wonder when BD drives in PCs will outnumber DVD drives. Will we even see that happen in our lifetimes? When you think about just how well digital media is doing when it comes to downloads/streaming (Hulu, Steam, etc.), it's totally feasible to think that folks may opt to just download/stream movies and such rather than spring for Blu-ray. Besides, on a PC with a resolution below 1080p, the uptick in resolution is still a hard sell. Michael Yang, senior analyst for storage and mobile memory at iSuppli, had this to say about the findings:

"BDs won’t be replacing DVDs as the primary optical drive in PC systems through at least the year 2013. They eventually will find success, but during the next five years, that success will be limited in the PC segment. According to Yang, the two main reasons hampering the adoption of Blu-ray drives in PCs include costs as well as the lack of a library of movies that justifies the need for consumers to move to a different drive in their PC. The cost issue is amplified by the fact that the library of content is so small that there really isn’t a reason for users to switch at the moment."

Has optical media hit a temporary wall? Will DVDs linger for the next decade while Blu-ray struggles to gain support in the PC industry? Once BD drives become cheap enough to let PC makers offer $10 or $20 upgrades, we can certainly see PC buyers taking the plunge. But for $100+, there are far more pressing upgrades (RAM, GPUs, CPU speed, screen resolution, etc.) to spring for.