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Blu-ray Disc Progress Report

Jul 30th, 2008
The Adult Entertainment Connection

In my last column, I reported on the progress of the Blu-ray Disc format six months after its format war victory focusing on mainstream films. But as I speculated in February of 2007 and again in December, since Adult Entertainment (AE) had significant impacts on the successes of VHS and DVD, it may play a significant role in the acceptance of Blu-ray Disc. Despite the proliferation of inexpensive, modest or low quality AE in the Web, there is a growing demand for AE in high definition.

A higher level of detail creates a more intimate connection to the onscreen action, elevating the titillation factor. And to satisfy discriminating consumers of AE, there are now hundreds of such high definition discs on the market, admittedly some with better quality than others. I had only heard of three of the studios that offer AE on BD when I researched this article: Amorz (Mugen), Anabolic, CD Girls, Club Jenna, Devil's Film, Diabolic, Digital Sin/NS, Hustler, Iron Cross, JM Productions, Jules Jordan Video, Magmafilm, Nectar Entertainment, Pink Visual, Teravision, Vivid, and Zero Tolerance/3rd Degree. But the one studio most committed to high definition and high quality is Digital Playground.

In June, Digital Playground announced that it will release all new titles on Blu-ray Disc day and date with DVD. During recent interviews with Digital Playground executives, co-founder Joone said, “The Blu-ray market is growing and we've seen a steady growth in sales.” CEO Samantha Lewis added, “The fourth quarter of 2008 is going to be huge for Blu-ray sales. Technology industry sources predict Blu-ray players to drop in price by $100. Many people will receive their first Blu-ray player during the holiday season, and then will rush out to buy any title they can get their hands on. Our goal is to make sure that all of our titles are readily available for purchase.”

Digital Playground wisely started shooting product in high definition in 2004, anticipating the transition from standard definition. It initially made a serious commitment to HD DVD, issuing approximately three dozen titles on that format. As of this writing, the company very nearly matched that number with its Blu-ray Disc titles, many of which were previously issued on HD DVD. This is about three times more BDs than has been released by any other AE studio. Digital Playground is planning to release one catalog title on Blu-ray every week, and its aggressive approach to marketing and quality has captured 40% of the AE market. Its Pirates Blu-ray Disc is reported to have sold more than any other BD title, and its Robby D's Cheerleaders is currently a top selling BD, along with Babysitters, My First Porn 10, Jesse Jane: Sexy Hot… the studio dominates the top ten sales charts, despite a premium SRP of $50 per title.

The quality of the presentations keeps getting better. Its earliest title on HD DVD, Island Fever 3, was hardly distinguishable from its DVD equivalent. But for months, compression problems, halos, and excessive filtering are, for the most part, being banished. The studio switched away from VC-1 and is now predominantly compressing using the superior AVC video CODEC. Captured digitally, the images have outstanding color rendition, great small object detail, and very good finely grained textures. Implant scars, blemishes, Goosebumps, cellulite… the soft video illusion of perfection on formats past has been replaced by a level of realism that’s more involving. Regardless, there is clearly an effort to put performers without distracting flaws onscreen, which must be a challenge to casting directors and makeup artists. Since the films are all very well lit, shadow detail is a non-issue, but on a few of the discs, a bit of white crush in bright backgrounds is evident. It matters not; the performers are properly lit and exposed (no pun intended). But if I had to characterize the resolution, I would say that it was closer to 720p than 1080p. That is about to change.

It’s been reported that Joone volunteered that Digital Playground is currently shooting with the high definition RED camcorder. Ten films are in the can, but the titles have not yet been revealed. To appreciate the significance requires a visit to the RED website, “Typical high-end HD camcorders have 2.1M pixel sensors and record with 3:1:1 color sub-sampled video at up to 30fps. RED offers the Mysterium™ Super 35mm cine sized (24.4×13.7mm) sensor, which provides 4K (up to 30 fps), 3K (up to 60 fps) and 2K (up to 120 fps) capture, and all this with wide dynamic range and color space in 12 bit native RAW. At 4K, that’s more than 5 times the amount of information available every second and a vastly superior recording quality. In addition, you get the same breathtaking Depth of Field and selective focus as found in film cameras using equivalent 35mm P/L mount lenses. Mysterium ™ boasts greater than 66db Dynamic Range thanks to its large 29 sq. micron pixels. And 12,065,000 pixels deliver resolution that can only be called Ultra High Definition.” After down-conversion to 1080p24 for Blu-ray Disc, the visual quality should be spectacular.

Parting Thoughts

Opinions vary concerning the contributions of AE, first on its impact on the format war, and now its impact on the acceptance of Blu-ray Disc in the marketplace. The format war ended too quickly and abruptly for AE to have made much of a difference, but this writer believes that the stimulating transparency of the boundary between viewers and performers that only high definition can deliver will make a difference. I believe AE will accelerate the acceptance of Blu-ray Disc and help it replace standard definition DVD.