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A Blu Light at the End of the Tunnel

30 Nov, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

OK. I think I get it now. Blu-ray is pretty cool.

Now I have to admit, I am not an early adopter. I actually avoided purchasing a DVD player for some time, even after I started working at this magazine. I don't allow myself to have cable. Both my TVs are really old and I don't have a home theater system. I choose this kind of lifestyle because I honestly believe I need to limit my reasons to park myself in front of the TV as much as possible because I tend to do it often, even without all the accoutrements.

I do love my iPod and my wireless computer. But mostly my idea of portable entertainment is a book. Call me crazy but sometimes I even like to just sit in the dark and listen to music on a regular old CD player.

Still, sitting at the Blu-ray folk's demo the other day, it was like a little technology bell “dinged” in my head.

I chuckled as we watched an animated gold coin flitter across the screen during a scene from Pirates of the Carribean (during which I very much enjoyed how oh-so-pretty the love of my life Johnny Depp looked in hi-def glory) dragging along with it the Blu-ray disc's interactive menu.

Being one of “those” kind of geeks, I also got more than a little thrilled at the option a Fox representative showed for the Master and Commander Blu-ray disc. I love the idea of having the historical annotations and trivia running alongside the film to one side of the screen. I know several other people in my life who would eat something like that right up too.

I know my brother and brother-in-law would go nuts to see the Sin City sample feature Buena Vista showed at the press conference. It's a shooting game in which you as the viewer get to shoot people while a particular scene rolls, racking up points in two categories — dead “good guys” and dead “bad guys.” It's kind of crazy, and certainly violent, but it fits right in to the nature of the film, and frankly, those who love to watch it.

On a much different tack, we hooked up via an animated Disney disc for a real-time virtual party at Disneyland with the real Cinderella. My first thought was “Well, my niece would be peeing in her new big-girl panties about right now.”

Buena Vista even brought along a sample of what the set-top game included on the recently released special edition Aladdin DVD would look and feel like in the Blu-ray version. I smiled as the screen whipped through a virtual city as we “flew” on Aladdin's magic carpet.

It was really interesting to get a live glimpse at what this technology can do. And I think some of the Blu-ray backers in attendance made a very good point. Yes, downloading is the wave of the future, but it is going to be a very long time before consumers can realistically download a film in high-definition presentation. According to speakers at this week's press conference, it would take about 10 hours, even at the highest download speed in widest broadband pipeline. And that doesn't even factor in all the nifty extras and interactivity the next-generation of discs will provide that a digital download can't.

Because of these two things, packaged media, Blu-ray backers pointed out, will be with us for some time, hopefully with Blu-ray leading the future of the medium.

And for the first time in covering this subject, which I admit I do not do as often as some others here, I felt a sense of realism. The hardware and software folk talking up Blu-ray Tuesday discussed the process of it, the fact that it will be a slower rollout than DVD, that prices will come down as market demand increases, that the much-vaunted 50GB disc will be used as consumer desire for all the features ramps up.

And they aren't leaving DVD in the dust yet either, which is comforting.

Blu-ray machines will be backward compatible with DVD. The Blu-ray Disc Association can create a hybrid that will include a standard definition DVD presentation and high-def presentation on the same side of a disc. Those fancy interactive menus are optional, consumers can choose to access content through a more familiar standard-definition DVD menu as well.

“We really believe this is going to be a market with two formats coexisting for a long time, with Blu-ray the high-def solution, and DVD the standard-definition solution, ” said Andy Parsons, SVP of advanced product development for Pioneer Electronics.

I've always thought the transition will come in baby steps. After all, there are an awful lot of people like me in the market. It's good to get excited about new technology; it's a beautiful thing. But it's going to be a long time before either high-def disc option hits Wal-Mart ubiquity … and it's good to know that Blu-ray backers seem to be accepting that.

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