Why are computer Blu-Ray drives so much cheaper than standalones?

A standalone Blu-Ray player goes for upwards of $3-400.

Blu-Ray drives start at $140.

Why such a price difference? The case and components? I can cobble together $400 worth of retail parts to build a simple box, one that would be vastly overpowered to just run the player. Specialized, large-scale manufacturing orders should slash that cost.

If it’s a matter of market economics and licensing, then why aren’t drives priced higher? Are they underpowered or under-featured?

I must be missing something—anyone?

At a guess I would say the Blu-Ray player in your computer can take advanatge of your computer’s CPU and memory.

A stand-alone player has to do all the processing on its own so it needs a CPU and memory and programming to pull it all off rather than shifting the burden to another piece of hardware.

Add in the case and power supply and controls and display you can see there are more to them.

That was my thinking as well, but I’m in the process of putting together a low-end system and started thinking about prices. Retail prices for a case/PSU, board, CPU, RAM, and other parts necessary to send the video signal are in the same range as a standalone unit.

What made me think twice, is that the video processing for a standalone doesn’t need to be much greater than 4-5 year old technology, and it’s just processing signal, not performing any physics or polygon calculations. Same goes for lots of other equipment in a standard rig–there is no need for USB, HDD controlers, etc… on the board. A Toshiba or other large manufacturer should be able to buy chips from the same people as Asus et al, contract with Antec for a minimalist case, etc.

So if I’m building a wimpy box for $400, how low would my cost be if I was manufacturing 1000s of them stripped down even further?

I think it’s mainly because the margins on consumer electronics are higher than those on computer components, even when they’re sold by the same vendor.

WAG: Blu-ray clearly won the battle as a video format, but HD-DVD maybe still has a bit of a chance as a data format. With the cost of HD-DVD computer drives plummeting, it’s a decent option if all you want is to make big backups or something like that. Ergo, there’s still competition here, while there’s no competition on the standalone drives.

ETA: You may also be underestimating the computational power necessary to handle an HD signal. I know my previous 5-year-old computer couldn’t handle highest resolutions for the video samples that are floating around the internet. Plus, I think there’s encryption from the source all the way to the TV, using HDMI. I think an HDMI video card would probably push you over the $400 price on a new computer.

Perhaps, but you can get an 8600 GT for about a hundred bucks (the first hit for “vga hdmi”). Not an uber-fast gaming card by any stretch, but there is a lot of functionality not related to porting HDMI movies to the display. Strip away the retail markup, account for only-what’s-needed (e.g., no SLI infrastructure), buy in massive bulk at the wholesale level, and the price drops dramatically—dramatically from a hundred bucks. (I realize there would be a markup on the overall player, but I’m comparing retail pricing of individual components.)

Same for the motherboard. Does a player need a southbridge, SATA controllers, LAN, etc? Video processing can be put directly on the board (not stock VGA boards, but the required capability), and again, a hundred and fifty dollar retail board/CPU drops in price with stripped components, no markup, and large volume. There are nonstandard computer bits that need to go in, but most of these are widely available and pretty cheap.

Furthermore, the potential market for a standalone player is substantially larger than for bare drives—again, taking advantage of volume pricing.

I’m not saying the prices should be exactly comparable, but I still don’t get the sizable difference.

I also don’t understand how market forces are working in this. The forces behind Blu-Ray have an interest in getting their players into as many homes as possible, thereby increasing the demand for their format, thereby increasing their licensing fees. (New movies are mostly available in Blu-Ray, but what about back catalog?)

They’re also working against a ticking clock – it would be a vain conceit to think the Next Big Thing isn’t just around the corner. More players in homes would forestall the inevitable turnover, and the quicker they get in those homes the longer the lifespan of the technology.

Lastly, I don’t get the apparent violation of Econ 101. Basically, if a company can sell a unit for $1 cheaper than its competition, it will move its price accordingly. Its sales rise while others react, then wash, rinse, and repeat. There is a stopping point (where demand crosses supply), but given the above assumptions on manufacturing costs, that point hasn’t been reached.

I don’t have pretensions of pointing out the naked emperor, or suggesting they let some of the air out of the truck’s tires, I really don’t know where my logic is going astray.

And I want a cheap Blu-Ray player.

Blu-Ray players are basically stand-alone computers (as are Tivo boxes, DVRs, etc.) My BDP (a Sony something or other) came with some disclaimers about the Java run-time architecture, so I’m guessing things are running in Java. The Blu-Ray spec is subject to continual updates, resulting in a weird situation wherein you’re not guaranteed to be able to play future Blu-Ray discs or, more accurately, access their “special content.” IIRC, there’s some statement that seems to state that, even if you buy a future disc with more bitchin features that your player can’t support, you’ll at least always be able to play the main title.

They want to have all BDP’s connected to the internet so they can upgrade them automatically (I’m assuming that you may be asked to consent to this).

They also put lists of “exiled machines” (machines owned by suspected pirates) on future discs so they can deploy out to the wilderness to find and disable the offending machines.

All this leads to: the friggin discs take forever to start up! The problem: when you turn on your BDP, it’s a computer that’s booting up, and when you insert a disc, it has to check for various things, mostly involving whether or not you have permission to watch the movie. Then it has to start playing its anti piracy warning, which you cannot disable, and then the previews, which sometimes you can get around by fast-forwarding them (since many won’t accept the order to just go to the menu).

Casino Royale (the later, unfunny one) took three minutes to even get to the anti-piracy message – I read somewhere online that that disc was one of the first to contain a list of banned machines.

Sucks. I don’t mind having DRM, but after I pay $30 for a Blu-Ray disc, I strongly resent watching the anti-piracy warning that’s the first thing the pirates remove from their copies. So, if you’re a pirate, you don’t see warnings. If you are a paying customer, you get to see warnings.

Fortunately, I haven’t ever been in a situation where I needed to start a movie real soon or the world was going to end. So I insert a disk, switch over to TV for awhile, and when (and if) I remember there’s a disc in my player, it’s already settled down and gone to the menu.

Wow… that’s Pit-worthy.

But with LAN capability and a flash drive (we’re talking what, about $30 retail), I’m still not seeing root hardware costs of a few hundred dollars.

You keep throwing around this “few hundred dollars” figure. The difference between a $280 Blu-Ray player and a $140 BD-ROM drive is $140. For all of the extra components required for a standalone player (a small PC, basically), $140 doesn’t sound terribly unreasonable.

I think Groo’s hit on the real reason for the price difference. All the DRM features he lists here are powered by some pretty elaborate software. And come with an ongoing obligation from the manufacturer to provide very regular software updates for the foreseeable future. The stand-alone DVD data drive doesn’t have any of these - and most likely will not play major studio releases without additional software, which I suspect will have it’s own premium. Unless Microsoft has it bundled in the home media software at a loss to capture market share.

All of this led me to decide to wait to invest in this technology until it matures. My tolerance for software complexity in my DVD player is about the same as for my toaster. If I buy a movie and take it home to watch, I expect it to play. I’ll tolerate a few minutes for it to boot up and read the disc; gives me time to make popcorn. But I will not tolerate a warning from my DVD player demanding that I feed it the latest software upgrade before it goes to work. I get enough of that from my I/T staff, thank you very much.

Somewhere Douglas Adams is looking down at this and giggling about the possible columns he could write.

Part of the cost differential between a component and a consumer device is the cost of the license to play Blu-Ray material.

If you buy a BluRay disk drive for a PC, you are getting a piece of hardware that provides an interface between the media and the computer. You may be able to read the raw data directly, but the software/additional hardware layer that interprets the data and turns it into something that can be displayed on an output device (like a TV) is additional. These licenses (sold by Sony, I guess) have a significant cost. HDMI interconnects also have encryption and licensing. Additionally, low processing power consumer devices use hardware decoding equipment. Some PC video cards supply similar hardware capabilities, as do some recent CPUs (Intel Atom is one), but require licensed software for access.

All these factors, along with a limited supply of Blue LED lasers and normal market pressures drive up the cost of Blu-Ray devices. Building your own PC based solution is possible, but you either have to pay a premium for the accelerated hardware and OS to support it (ie a Microsoft OS Solution with a suitable Graphics card and player software), or for sufficient CPU resources to do software decoding (people suggest Dual or even Quad Core for 1080p on Linux with no accelerated hardware assistance).

I want to build my own Media center, multiple FreeSat tuner cards and Blu-Ray/HD capable. I am holding off because the solutions for 1080p decoding on Linux require more CPU than I really think should be necessary - eventually someone will get hardware decoding working with or without the Graphic cards manufacturers assistance.