Blu-ray or Digital Downloads? Integrators Weigh In

Integrators are keeping their options open, but Blu-ray is the recommended choice.

By Jason Knott
October 21, 2008
Integrators are not just installers; they are advisors. And never has your advice for customers been more important than it is now, especially in the debate over high-definition video content.

Should customers be purchasing Blu-ray players/Playstation 3 hardware to watch high-def content? Or should they be purchasing/renting downloadable HD streaming media from the Internet and storing it on hard-drive servers in the home?

Or should they just be watching over-the-air/cable/fiber HD in their homes?

Eventually, the answer, of course, will be all of the above. But what should you recommend to your clients in the meantime, during this transitional phase?

CE Pro asked integrators: "What source of high-definition content are you recommending to your clients and why?"

Overall, among the more than 100 responses we received, Blu-ray players are the recommended choice at this point. Here is a sampling of what dealers are doing and why.

Blu-ray Is the Way

I'm a big believer of using technologies that are proven in the marketplace for some time before I begin recommending them to my client base. This gives the manufacturers time to work out all the bugs so I don't have to deal with the headaches.

Blu-ray players and discs are being used in my clients' homes and theaters because, simply put, people know how to load a disc into a player. Also, the other high-def players rely on an Internet connection for downloading.

This is just another possible point of failure that may result in an increase of non-billable service calls. Blu-ray has my vote for now and the foreseeable future." -- Seth Diggs, president, Paramount Home Theater, West Palm Beach, Fla.

As of right now we are recommending Blu-ray as an option, but we are also explaining to the clients about the current limitations of the current players. Vudu has also been a terrific option for our clients. We have been installing it since the beginning of the year, and our clients are thrilled with it.

Most of the time, they are adding a second unit to their home. Also since DirecTV's upgrade last year, it has been the best option for our clients for most of their content. -- Robert Kowalski, Premier Home Theater, Newton, N.J.

We are recommending Blu-ray to our clients who want to keep the content. Although we are selling some Vudu, we are not currently recommending it for our clients that want to own or keep the HD content.

Vudu has been slow to provide purchasable HD content. We are, however, recommending it for our clients who are more interested in the on-screen library capabilities.

We still have clients who want to keep and maintain their own libraries via hard drive or changer, and they are still waiting on either a Blu-ray changer or some closure to the whole digital rights issue regarding hard drive storage." -- E. Stan Kidd, Savant Living LLC, Virginia Beach, Va.

I am recommending Blu-ray currently. It's important to maintain their freedom of source selection from anywhere in the home. -- Bob Piccirilli, Performance Innovations Corp., Genoa, Ill.

We are recommending Blu-ray and DirecTV because the quality of both is far superior to anything else out there. -- Aaron Poole, Poole Audio Video, Newburgh, Ind.

We are recommending Blu-ray for 1080p content. However, we are careful to inform our customers of some of the more common problems that still exist, such as frequent incompatibility with certain standard definition discs, etc.

We currently wire all central control and source equipment locations with Ethernet jacks so as to provide access to any future download service over the Web, such as Netflix. -- Dale Boyd, Audioscapes Inc., Yorba Linda, Calif.

Of all of the current options for HD content, we recommend Blu-ray as the best choice. But even then, we are also suggesting to our clients that they wait until the standards and firmware issues settle out. -- Scott McAllister, MediaWorks, Sacramento, Calif.

We're recommending Blu-ray, Xbox, PlayStation 3 and Kaleidescape. Kaleidescape just started delivering its 1080p product. And knowing Kaleidescape, I'm sure it's going to be an awesome product.

Even though two of the download services say they have 'up to 1080p,' I know they are not delivering that product as of yet. I'm sure this is due to download bandwidth issues."
Dave Darnell, U.S. Tech, Denver, Colo.

Right now we are telling our clients that the Blu-ray technology is the only way to view true high-def content. -- Jay McCutcheon, SouthCentral Sound, Nashville, Tenn.

The Disc Is Dead

We love the Apple TV and include at least one on all of our jobs. It is great for video, music, photo and YouTube distribution. Most people have an iPod and are already familiar with iTunes.

So, it makes the Apple TV a wonderful product to integrate. Also it is much faster to watch an HD movie when you consider the time it takes a Blu-ray player to load and start playing. Our clients love the Apple TV." -- Tom Jacob, Foothill Integrated System Inc., Pasadena, Calif.

We recommend relying on currently 'stable' technologies, such as FIOS or DirecTV. Blu-ray is doomed. It hasn't been this slow and awkward to watch a movie since we had to flip over a LaserDisc.

I'm a little apprehensive to jump on the 'downloadable' bandwagon at this point in time, but I believe that this will be the mainstream entertainment medium sooner than later. David Doggett, D-force AV, New Market, Md.

It seems like the CE industry has really dissed almost everything Apple does, but it's a monster you have to live with. Apple TV has plenty of limitations, like control, but it's inexpensive and helps us get 'mom' to go along with the rest of the stuff. This is because digital photos are a huge emotional attraction to our female clients and many of them have iPods, which means they already know something about iTunes.

On the Blu-ray side, it's a fantastic format, but I'm already starting to feel a little of the same thing I felt two years after I bought my LaserDisc player. The future is 'soft' media, not 'hard' media, like CDs and DVDs. When we install a Blu-ray player, we tell the clients all the same thing: "put the disc in, go make a sandwich or vacuum your pool, come back and the disk should be ready to play." It's just so dang slow, needs the occasional software update and managing hard media stinks.

Apple is certainly an island unto themselves and I don't feel like they care much about the CE industry. But if we could lobby for some of their attention, it might be a good move to align rather than fight. If they had a booth at CEDIA, wouldn't it be a popular place to go?"Doug Swan, Electronic Escape LLC, Melbourne, Fla.

We recommend Verizon Fios for HD content due to the variety and quality of the picture. I also explain to our clients that most of them will be hard pressed to see the actual difference between 1080p,1080i and 720p.

For those of us who have been trained, we get it and see the differences. In the real world, to tell your client they have to watch Blu-ray to really get the potential out of what they bought is a tough pitch.

Most of them that I've worked with would prefer a 9 out of 10 in picture quality and as much variety in content they can get there eyes on. -- Shawn D. Saathoff, Sensuous Sound Systems, Tampa, Fla.

I'm telling my customers that 'the disk is dead.' My customers are enthusiastically embracing Apple TV. They love the clean, elegant and intuitive interface. -- Michael Daugherty, MDAVS, Bel Air, Calif.

In order [of preference], we recommend: Off-air antennas, Netflix, Dish, Blu-ray. We are utilizing the Media Center interface, and its plug-in applications provide for On-Demand digital streaming. We are finding customers love the idea of recording off-air HD to a Media Center device. -- Michael Martin, Martin Media Tec, Green Bay, Wis.

The best solution we have found for watching HD content, saving HD content and distributing HD content throughout the home is with a customized Media Center powered by Microsoft from a company called Xtream Media Servers.

The company offers the ability to store HD content from cable TV, Blu-ray, iTunes, Internet stores and HD DVD discs. This stored video can be retrieved on demand and viewed at 1080p on any monitor in the house.

It takes about 12 minutes to rip a DVD and just over 20 minutes for a Blu-ray disc. We have found nothing close in comparison to picture quality and ability to store such a wide array of HD content. -- Joel Hunter, Complete Home Entertainment Systems, Palm Desert, Calif.

Covering All the Bases

This is a tough transition right now. Blu-ray is good delivery, but clunky operations and slow loads make it tough to recommend as 'the answer.'

Kaleidescape is a great solution, but not affordable to the average consumer. The best thing going for getting the masses watching high-def right now is HD cable boxes, CableCards and DirecTV.

Also, the use of scalers like DVDO (or even the ones built into our "upper line" Yamaha receivers) make even an S video source look pretty good. By simplifying recommendations to our clients, we insure expectations are met. Simplicity of operations remains a key ingredient. -- Tony Ellis, Innovative Audio Inc., Carlsbad, Calif.

I am specifying Blu-ray players in place of standard DVD players in a lot of projects and recommending Vudu, which has the most movies at this point, better HD quality and interfaces with a control system. And, I can sell it to them and make some profit, which isn't really possible with Apple products. -- John Oliver, Complete Home Electronics, Fraser, Colo.

Our clients are hungry for any high-def content. The current common selections include DirecTV & Comcast high-def receivers, Blu-ray players, Apple TV and high-end media servers. Even though most of these sources are not true 1080p, our clients want what they can get right here, right now.

We are currently evaluating additional offerings, such as Vudu, Netflix and Popcorn Hour that may come into our mix in the near future. -- Scott Fuelling, Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment, Memphis, Tenn.

We show Vudu, support Apple TV and explain the streaming/download future. However, the easiest way for our customers to enjoy hi-def content in their home tonight is Blu-ray for 1080p and cable or satellite for 720p/1080i, and we tell them that. -- Ford Montgomery, Chelsea Audio Video, Beaverton, Ore.

We are currently recommending:
  • HDTV cable service -- Because of the great selection of channels, and they are adding more every quarter
  • Blu-ray -- It's the best-looking HD source available
  • Apple TV -- It's not as good for HD video as the above, but unbeatable for HD slideshows
-- Michael W. Storch, Storch Entertainment Systems LLC, Winter Park, Fla.

It depends on the customer, the type of home theater system they have, their movie collection, if they currently use Netflix and if they are a big movie fan. I myself have Netflix, PS3 for Blu-ray, Vudu XL and your standard Dish Network satellite.

With what is available today, I like the Vudu box for ease of use and instant gratification for my customers. Now, if you have a high-end client, he will never accept the quality of the video or lack of surround sound formats available on the Vudu box, Roku's Netflix player or Apple TV, so Blu-ray is the way I would steer him.

I am not married to one media outlet because if everyone were alike, we wouldn't have all these choices. The bottom line is: How much does the customer want to spend on rentals or purchases of movies/media?

Maybe Netflix should merge with Vudo, and then you would have an awesome catalog of movies and a kick-ass GUI and search engine. If only it were that simple." -- Andre Lawton, Magical Home Theaters, Fort Myers, Fla.

We are recommending two ways to go: Blu-ray and Apple TV. With this recommendation, our clients will have all options covered whether they are purchasing HD content through retail or through the Internet via Apple TV. Both options have their advantages.

With Blu-ray you can simply insert your disc and play. While with Apple TV, you have a great user interface and ease of either renting and or purchasing your HD content on your time schedule. Steve Randazzo, Randazzo's Home Systems, Scottsdale, Ariz.

For those seasoned veterans who have watched transitional technologies (Beta, VHS, 8mm, DCC, DAT, HD/VHS, HD-DVD, etc.) come and go over the years, and with the exciting prospect of upcoming technologies, such as digital and downloadable content providers, you have to be careful when recommending a format that may or may not become mainstream or obsolete in an amazingly short period of time (Will Blu-ray overtake DVD in the mass market?).

Clearly, the quality of Blu-ray and other HD devices is desirable (and mandatory), and we don't sell against Blu-ray. But we try to increase theater/media system "source" offerings by adding products that complement DVD and won't come back to haunt us.

Currently, DVD players with video upscaling to HD quality are a given (like the Integra DPS-6.7) for those who do not have a Blu-ray collection. We are also happy that Kaleidescape is now offering the Player 6000, which will upscale standard DVD to 1080p HD (for larger standard DVD collections that the homeowner has already accumulated).

In addition, rather than just selling the theater/media system with just a DVD as the lone source (along with utility-supplied cable boxes), we include Vudu as a standard theater source in all of our projects. Rather than sell this "against" the DVD player, this is a great source "in addition" to the DVD server or player.

It gives the owner instant access to content that they do not currently have. We call it a "virtual video store" … this concept clicks and sells well. -- Ron Roslasky, Home Systems, Pompton Plains, N.J.

We have split our clients into two camps: Those who choose to rent their HD video content and those who choose to purchase it.

For those who choose to purchase, we are installing the better Blu-ray players, retail priced at $999 and up. For those who do not care to own their content, we are using the Apple TV. Clients love the ease of use and added functionality for showing family photos. -- Bryant Moore, Moore Audio Design, Charlotte, N.C.

None of the Above

I think you will find most integrators are actually just 'installing' and not really integrating anything when it comes to HD (okay, okay … aside from some form of a remote).

We have a different approach: We provide a custom installation of Mythtv, more specifically, a "roll-your-own" version of Mythtv Dragon 2.0. This allows us to not only provide a central input for several HD sources but allows us to retain our identity with the homeowner through on-screen branding, not to mention a great PVR to boot. Linux variants are not just for Web servers and cell phones. -- James C. Gooch, VIP Systems, Houston, Texas

I recommend all systems, because I am an integrator of all systems. The customer decides the particular brand or format they would like, and I take it from there. The customer has 90 percent of the input on what they are buying due to cost/brand or format.

I can only suggest the type of unit that fits there needs. My job is to sell a product for quality; the format is irrelevant. My job is to install whatever the customer purchases according to their budget or need. -- Edwin Pina Sr., TCI Enterprise/Tampa Communications, Tampa, Fla.

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