The Future of Blu-ray…

15 04 2008

Blu-ray has won the format war – what next? Keith Hennessey, editor of HD Review magazine, talks us through what the movie studios have in store…

How will consumers benefit now that the HD war is over?

It has certainly helped to clear up the confusion. It’s been said so many times already but the whole HD war scenario really was holding things back. Obviously consumers – and retailers, to a certain extent – were not going to invest heavily in something that might be rendered obsolete just a few months down the line.

Consumers now have the peace of mind to take the plunge and buy whatever HD hardware or software they have their eye on without fear of flushing their cash straight down the toilet. It also has benefits for the industry as a whole because studios also now have the security to fully commit to the format. Now that DVD’s successor is clear you’re going to see many more releases flooding onto the market (both new and catalogue) and hopefully new ways of using the fledging technology.

Do you think the best technology won?
Both formats had their plus points. For example, HD DVDs were being produced with features like Picture-in-Picture and community viewing options long before Blu-ray’s BD Live functionality. And the picture quality and sound quality was on a par with their Blu-ray counterparts. However, Blu-ray was improving and evolving at a much faster rate.

I think in the end it all came down to marketing and Sony and its Blu-ray backers were much more switched on than the HD DVD camp and saw the potential for the format much earlier. Just talking from a magazine point of view, each month we were receiving many more Blu-ray Discs than HD DVDs – we really had to work at chasing studio representatives and PRs just to get a single HD DVD in for review. Most companies didn’t have review samples even though they had the actual product on the shelf. It seemed like, in Europe at least, there was no infrastructure to distribute or promote HD DVD even within the industry let alone to the public, whereas Blu-ray did. It might not be a case that one technology was better than the other but that one camp was more prepared, educated and aware of the potential of high-definition discs than the other.

Looking at some of the more interesting additional features of Blu-ray, Picture-in-Picture displays are mentioned quite a bit. What have been some good examples? And are there interesting examples on the way?
There are plenty on the way – it’s actually really exciting to hear what studios have planned but it’s still fairly early days. Although discs like Resident Evil: Extinction include options like Blu-Wizard, which essentially lets you create your own playlist with the extras package and true Picture-in-Picture, the best is really yet to come with the introduction of BD-Live.

How about some of the other interactive features of Blu-ray – are they being used at the moment? Things like simple games, richer menus, etc? Are there any interesting examples already out there, and on the way?
Like I say there are some nice little touches being added but the real gold is yet to come. Disney has announced plans to release some of its back-catalogue material like Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray with a whole host of simple interactive games, which should help to keep kids entertained as well as provide consumers with a genuine reason to buy the movie again even if they already own it, which is definitely a step forward.

Menus and extras really depend on how seriously the studios are taking the move to Blu-ray. Some are really quite quirky and cool, whereas others are more your standard DVD menu with a few bells and whistles attached. Some certainly work harder than others.

PS3 has just had a firmware update to Profile 2.0, allowing it to support BD Live. Are there any interesting movie discs set to support this, and how? The early stuff I’ve heard of sounds like just downloadable trailers, although Saw IV apparently has ‘MoLog’ element allowing viewers to blog on the film directly via their blu-ray player. What do you think are some of the more intriguing plans?
I’ve heard some awesome things are in development, all the things you’ve mentioned and much more. I’m particularly interested in the community side of things that enable you to sit down with friends around the world and watch a movie together just like you would play games against each other online, with headsets and everything.

The innovations ahead extend to being able to download sound clips for your mobile and additional content for the movies you’ve already purchased, hopefully putting an end to the whole ‘double-dipping’ scenario we’ve all experienced with DVD. I’ve seen some of it in action and if it works that well in practice it’s going to get a lot of people excited. What I would say though is that things are a little slow at the moment – recent import release and one of the first 2.0-compatible titles Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story gives you the option to download trailers etc, but without a super-fast internet connection the process can be a little laboured. I’m sure this will improve over time, though.

In terms of these BD-Live features I think my favourite so far is the plan to included an on-demand trivia quiz for the film you’re watching, so mid-movie you can compete against people online or in the same room to see who the true superfan is. Who knows, you might even get to use your Buzz controllers.

How supportive are studios when it comes to this kind of extra content? How much of a priority is it for them? It seems a few directors were very supportive of Blu-ray – are they likely to be the driving force when it comes to more in-depth use of Blu-ray functionality?
In the early days it was interesting to see the different approaches studios took towards Blu-ray and HD discs in general. Some would go all out and really try and deliver a package that excelled on all fronts, whereas others would just release their titles on Blu-ray almost as an afterthought and offer the same, or sometimes even less than the standard-def DVD version. But now Blu-ray is a much bigger deal for all those involved as it is a growing source of revenue and so some real consideration is being put into the product, which can only be a good thing.

Of course directors will have an impact because they are the driving force behind the movies – the Lucases and Spielbergs of this world can have a real impact because they reserve the right to decide which format their movies are released on and when, but in reality it’s really up to the studios. Directors can ensure the films look good by using high-def cameras, etc, but, according to the directors I’ve spoken to, the home video release is generally in the hands of the studio execs.

Sony Pictures has confirmed that some of its movie releases will include lower resolution ‘Portable Copies’ of the film to be viewed on PSP. Interesting, but have you heard about videogame releases that may employ Blu-ray’s interactive or Live features?

Not specifically but games have led the way in this field. For years now we’ve been able to download content, trailers and even full games using online services, as well as interact with other users; it’s now commonplace and I’m sure in the years to come that will be the case for Blu-ray too.

Is it likely we’ll see further additions to the Blu-ray feature set in the future? If so, what kinds of things?
Absolutely. The recent updates are just the start of something bigger that should change the way we experience home media. It’s still early days but there has been talk about adding the ability to cut your own version of the film –I don’t know how far along they are with features like this, though.

What other home cinema elements will need to evolve in users’ homes to get the most out of Blu-ray? Are their forthcoming TVs and home theatre audio setups that are going to be able to exploit the technology better?
It’s hard to imagine just how good things can get with technology evolving at the rate it is. Most HDTVs are full 1080p now, which should see an end to all this ‘HD ready’ nonsense, and some of the sound systems that can replicate surround sound without all the trailing wires are really coming on. Sony is already talking about integrating Blu-ray into most of its new appliances, including consoles, camcorders and the actual televisions themselves – kitting them out with full Blu-ray playback and recording functionality.

All you really need at the moment to really enjoy Blu-ray is a decent 1080p panel, a PS3 and an up-to-date audio system. Put all these together and I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference over standard DVD because, let’s face it, now the HD format war is over the new war is Blu-ray versus DVD, which is going to be a much harder battle to win.

Five discs with interesting extras…

Sleeping Beauty
Features a virtual castle to explore and an interactive game currently known as Maleficent’s challenge.

Men In Black
Boasts an interactive Trivia Game.

Hannah Montana
First-ever next-gen release to include both 2D and 3D viewing modes – comes with four pairs of 3D glasses for family viewing.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Offers the ability to download theatrical trailers and additional footage.

AVP: Requiem
This is still unconfirmed for the final release but ‘Alien vs. Predator vs. You’ is an interactive BD-Live-based game that allows multiple users to battle each other online, with the game’s narrative woven into the storyline of the film as it progresses.

Thanks ThreeSpeech




2 responses

15 04 2008
The Future of Blu-ray…

[…] Major Nelson wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI think in the end it all came down to marketing and Sony and its Blu-ray backers were much more switched on than the HD DVD camp and saw the potential for the format much earlier. Just talking from a magazine point of view, … […]

15 04 2008
The Future of Blu-ray…

[…] Read the rest of this great post here […]

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