A lot of ink (and even more digital ink) has been spilled over the high def format wars. Will HD-DVD beat out Blu-ray (with WB ditching HD for Blu, it's looking less likely)? Having access to both formats, this doesn't really bother me anyway. What I find vastly premature is misinformed people saying the point is moot anyway since digital distribution will be here soon enough. Some "experts" are predicting that within a few years, everyone will just be downloading their HD movies from some internet service and watching them off hard disks in their entertainment system. I'm sorry but this won't happen for a very long time and I will itemize why.
1) Bandwidth. Currently, a high def movie (especially with complete TrueHD or 5.1 or DTS soundtrack) is many many GBs in size. People's download speeds are simply not up to snuff to acquire this with any expediency. Imagine having to decide what you want to watch...days before watching it. Then you'd have to spend hours and hours to get the download. On top of that, most people have very limiting download caps on their ISPs. A couple of movies would bust your monthly cap, incurring penalties. The entire infrastructure would have to change, as well as the monthly cap system, before this idea of consistently downloading movies could ever exist.
2) Storage. All these movies you'd be downloading would have to be stored somewhere. Some people have extensive movie collections have having a closed box with limited hard disk space is simply unmanageable. Also, there is something that is lost by not having a box to put on a shelf. Unlike music, which is way more disposable, movie boxes are much some useful, if only for information. A CD doesn't have a plot or technical specs that the user needs to know. A movie, on the other hand, has useful information on the box such as what sound formats the movie has, its length, the plot, actors, etc,, all indispensable information that someone might want to quickly see at a glance. Plus, dvd cases look pretty on a shelf.
3) Lending. A great thing about having a physical storage unit for a movie is its versatility. I can bring a movie to a friend's house easily and we can all watch it. Likewise, I can borrow or rent movies and enjoy them, as well. With a download, how is someone supposed to swap films? Its intangible quality doesn't lend itself this type of trading which is a major flaw.
There's a reason books have been around this long and will continue to exist for a long time. There is something comforting about a physical item that represents the entertainment that you are consuming. Having books or in this case, dvd cases, on a shelf also says something about you. If you want to show someone your collection, scrolling through a list on a hard disk isn't very ideal. I think the intangible quality to digital distribution is a big flaw but the major drawback at this point remains the lack of technology and infrastructure to implement it. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, the economics of ISPs will change but until then, expect to keep going to Best Buy and picking up the latest dvds.