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Blu-ray Disc Makes Progress

Oct 8th, 2007
HD DVD is still very much in the game

BD+ and Firmware

I mentioned in a previous article that I fully expected all Blu-ray Disc players would require updates to their firmware to deal with the added security layer of BD+ anticipated for Fox’s reentry into the BD market.  I was pleased to learn that I was only partially correct.  Apparently my Sony BDP-S1 and several other BD players can deal with BD+ as is.  The bad news for owners of the Samsung’s BD-P1200 and LG Electronics’ BH100 players is that those units cannot deal with the new security layer without a firmware update.

The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Day After Tomorrow are the first two BD+ titles.  The discs also feature extensive BD-J supplements.  Early reports have identified the Samsung and LG Electronics players as incompatible.  Since the issues seem to be player-specific, Fox senior VP of marketing communications Steve Feldstein said, “We are releasing more and more advanced interactive titles, and consumers should lobby their hardware manufacturers to release firmware upgrades posthaste. The title [The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer] was well-reviewed and playing well on updated players.”

Reports indicate that both player manufacturers are working on firmware updates.  Samsung expects a new update to be available in a week or two.  LG Electronics was more optimistic, saying that new firmware is only days away. 

Note that players that can deal with the new security layer will have long load times, similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean BDs, perhaps as long as two minutes.  It isn’t clear if those load times are a result of the security layer or the more sophisticated BD-J supplements or both.

Free Disc Offer Extended

The Blu-ray Disc camp had offered five free discs with the purchase of a player.  That offer now has been extended until the end of January.  Apparently, the only thing that’s changed is the name.  The previous identical giveaway was called the Summer Blu-ray Offer; the new bonus is called the Winter Blu-ray Offer.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply call it the Free Blu-ray Offer?

The dedicated site for this offer provides all the details you’ll need.

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Bits

I previously described a 51 GB HD DVD development that bested Blu-ray Disc by one gigabyte.  Now comes word from Hitachi that it’s developed a 100 GB BD.  However, the 51 GB HD DVD likely will not compatible with existing HD DVD players, but Hitachi asserts that the 100 GB BD can be made compatible with existing BD players with a minor firmware update.  It should come as no surprise that the 100 GB BD is a quad-layer disc.  I suspect that manufacturing cost initially will be high, so it remains to be seen if two dual-layer BDs will be less expensive than one quad-layer BD.  Fortunately, I’m unaware of a film that cannot be accommodated with one 50 GB dual-layer BD, so individual film continuity can be preserved at no additional cost.  (I hate flippers and two-disc presentations of long films on DVD; they violate the director’s intent and collapse my willing suspension of disbelief.)

It’s unlikely that any one film might require 100 GB, but think of the possibilities.  How about the three Lord of the Rings films edited into one continuous feature?  Clearly, only the strong-bladdered need apply.

It’s been reported that Hitachi currently is working on reducing the error rates of its quad-layer discs to prepare it for the market.  Hitachi is also reported to be working on octo-layer disc capable of delivering 200 GB.  Sorry, no one’s bladder is that strong.

An Interesting Milestone

Sony DADC has Blu-ray Disc production plants in: Terre Haute, Indiana; Salzburg, Austria; and, Shizuoka, Japan.  It recently announced that it produced its ten millionth BD-50 Blu-ray Disc in its Terre Haute facility, a copy of Spider-Man 3.  Let’s see . . . if the average SRP of BDs is $30, that represents $300 million.  Since the DVD market is measured in the billions of dollars, it’s clear that we have far to go before HD on disc surpasses DVD.

But considering that the three plants have an aggregate monthly capacity of
21 million BDs, we’ve already come a long way since BD was introduced and both the protective coating and the second layer were contentious issues.  Yield rates (the percentage of acceptable product in a production run) have risen steadily since format introduction.  Interestingly, single-layer BD-25 discs have reached a yield equivalent to DVD production; surprisingly, that yield is only 85%.  Dual-layer BDs are catching up, currently hovering at the 79% level.

Blu-ray Disc Making Progress in Europe

Sony announced that sales of Blu-ray Disc titles in Europe are exceeding sales of HD DVD titles by up to 4:1.  I’m not exactly sure how Sony arrived at that figure.  Could it have been for titles released in both formats?  Reports indicate that this sales trend has motivated Germany’s Universum Film and France’s Studio Canal to schedule Blu-ray Disc releases for the critical fourth quarter.   And apparently, European desktop BD player sales are about to catch up with HD DVD player sales.  Such international trends will affect the ultimate outcome of the format war. 

Blu-ray Disc Profile 1.1

Blu-ray Disc was more rushed to market than HD DVD.  The feature set and standards have been more stable for HD DVD than for BD.  And while HD DVD has had Internet connectivity and interactivity, and PIP audio-video commentaries, BD has lagged behind.  Profile version 1.1 is intended to make BD’s feature set more competitive, but there are hardware requirements that earlier players including my Sony BDP-S1 cannot satisfy.

The Blu-ray Disc camp set an October 31st deadline for the introduction of players that conform only to Profile version 1.0.  So in a recent announcement, Samsung cancelled its high end BD-P2400 Blu-ray Disc player.  It’s believed that the cause was the company’s inability to get the new Profile 1.0 player to market before the deadline.  Perhaps for similar reasons, Samsung’s BD-UP5000 dual-format player has been delayed until December.

Considering the current state of the technology, this writer advises those who are still on the fence concerning investing in Blu-ray Disc to research the Profile that a player of interest might support.  Perhaps it would be wise not to be seduced by sudden discounts of Profile 1.0 players.  Future-proof your purchases by limiting your choices to Profile 1.1 players that also are capable of dealing with the BD+ security layer.

The Advanced Interactivity Consortium

Microsoft and Toshiba have teamed up to create a new organization intended to promote “superior interactivity for a wide range of next-generation consumer devices, digital content and distribution scenarios.”  They include HD DVD players, DVD players, PCs, TVs, cellular phones, portable media players, and game consoles.

The Consortium will work toward the acceleration of adoption of advanced interactivity and interoperability.  In other words, the online extras those of you with Internet connected HD DVD players have been enjoying with the last few HD DVD releases.  But a statement by Microsoft president of the entertainment and devices division Robbie Bach still has me a little nervous, “The goal is to ensure a high-quality experience not only through optical discs but also through new digital download services.”  It’s the latter that has me bugged.

Microsoft’s public position is that physical media is over, words, if I recall correctly, that came straight from Bill Gates’ mouth.  I can’t shake off this instinctive feeling that Microsoft’s vehement support of HD DVD is an effort to prolong a format war until the Internet infrastructure matures to the point that its download service can challenge discs as the preferred vector for delivering digital presentations of film to the home.

Not unexpectedly, the Consortium members also include the studios that have pledged HD DVD exclusivity: DreamWorks Animation, Paramount Pictures, and Universal Studios.  Interestingly, format agnostic Warner Bros. is also reported to be a participant. 

Parting Thoughts

I had predicted months ago that the format war would be decided by the holiday purchases of the fourth quarter of 2007.  I must now admit that I got it wrong.  I had not anticipated the DreamWorks and Paramount deal, and that changed everything.  I must now gird my loins for a more prolonged battle and patiently report progress and developments for the foreseeable future.  I still live in the hope that we can look forward to an end to the war, the elimination of consumer anxiety, and the steady and inevitable transition to high definition disc.