Despite massive leaps made in compression technology, the need for larger storage space continues. Higher resolution video signals will require a massive amount of storage, way beyond what flash media and current Blu-ray discs will hold. And the delivery of these bandwidth signals would be impossible with current technology and even a challenge for Australia's National Broadband Network; if indeed it's ever built.
Quad layer Blu-ray discs are now part of the Blu-ray spec, which hold up to 128GB. Could this be the vehicle for the future? I highly doubt it. It's incompatible with every Blu-ray player currently out there anyway, and whilst that gives an extra 80 gigabytes of storage space, we'll likely need even more than that.
The promised Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD) format which retains the same dimensions as Blu-ray, DVD and CD technology before it, is a likely successor. The format can theoretically hold up to 6TB on a single disc, read with a powerful green laser. More impressive still is the support that the HVD forum currently has, with Sony, Apple, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Lite-on all part of the coalition. It's very early days, but this technology is shaping up well with current manufacturing estimates putting the technologies availability at the turn of the next decade.
There is no argument from me that flash media, on demand video services and other forms of video downloads will certainly take market share away from packaged media. We've seen it with music, books and games - and it's happening now with movies. But, I still feel that the needs of the future will still call for pre-manufactured media to address incredibly high data demands. Will any future format become a niche, somewhat like laserdisc? Maybe. I'd probably go far as to say 'quite possible', but then again, we never do know until the market decides. And we all know that the economic assumption of consumers being rational is entirely untrue.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Blu-ray will have a fairly long shelf life, and will see the decade out. Blu-ray keeps on giving and the Blu-ray 3D format is and will continue to lead to exciting possibilities. But after that, the crystal ball is still a bit fuzzy...