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Parsons: Blu-ray Key to Pioneer's HD Strategy

29 Aug, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel


Andy Parsons


Andy Parsons, SVP of advanced product development at Pioneer Electronics and chair of the Blu-ray Disc Association promotion committee in the United States, has had a front-row seat at the launch of Blu-ray Disc.

Home Media Magazine asked Parsons for an update on the rollout of Blu-ray as well as Pioneer’s plans for the format.
 

  • HM: How important is Blu-ray to Pioneer?

 

  • Parsons: Blu-ray Disc is a crucial part of our overall high-definition product strategy. We have always believed that optical discs must represent the absolute reference quality for picture and sound, beginning with laserdisc in the very early 1980s, then DVD in the 1990s, and now Blu-ray. There have been dramatic advances in display technology over the past five years, so we think a “best of the best” source is needed to get the most out of these new, high-performance sets.

 

  • HM: Are consumer electronics manufacturers doing enough to promote Blu-ray?

 

  • Parsons: DVD is a tough act to follow. It’s been a powerful growth engine for the CE industry for years. You don’t want to give your customers the message that DVD is dead — it isn’t — and that the substantial investment they’ve made in that format is now at risk — it’s not. Since all known Blu-ray players can play DVDs, BD manufacturers are clearly acknowledging and embracing DVD’s enormous popularity. The trick is to promote the new format’s advantages without doing so at DVD’s expense.


So I think the promotion of the Blu-ray format is being closely coupled with the growing momentum behind high-definition in general — just look at how much more affordable large, high-def displays are now than they were even two years ago. Hopefully, as high-definition video becomes increasingly mainstream, Blu-ray will naturally overtake DVD as the preferred way to enjoy content.

  • HM: Is the side-by-side visual display still the best tool to promote Blu-ray?

 

  • Parsons: It can be a useful tool, but it can also fall into the trap of being perceived as an unemotional, technical exhibit. I happen to think that a very well-executed demonstration of Blu-ray on its own can be enormously persuasive. I am fortunate to have one of our newest 60-inch Kuro displays in my home, and when I show my guests the Blu-ray version of “Planet Earth” or a Pixar film, I don’t need to compare the DVD version to show them how incredible Blu-ray can look. The home entertainment business is all about emotional appeal, and demonstrations that show engaging content at its very best are the most effective ones in my opinion.

 

  • HM: What is Pioneer doing in terms of displays, kiosks and related efforts to sell/promote the new format at retail?

 

  • Parsons: You should be seeing more Pioneer Blu-ray players featured in high-profile places where our target audience buys their gear. We especially like to have our players shown alongside our Kuro line of plasma displays, since both products support complementary features like true 24-frame, 1080p playback of films. We’re really not interested in just moving a lot of BD players or HDTVs as commodity products, but would rather please our customers by providing an exciting, high-quality home theater experience.


For that, we need to promote a complete high-definition story — source, display and sound — and this works best with well-designed demo setups that we’re encouraging with a number of our key retail partners.

  • HM: Is BD Live the killer app to fuel Blu-ray adoption in the United States?

 

  • Parsons: I’ve never really agreed with the killer app mentality. What’s the killer app for cell phones? Talking to each other or text messaging? If my kids are any example, it’s both. For Blu-ray, it’s certainly all about the high-def experience, but it’s also about the promise of a much more sophisticated level of interactivity that can deepen the emotional reward of watching a film. The first pass is the linear storytelling that everyone wants. The next pass, if done well, drills deeply into the film through the use of BD-J programming and online BD Live features. This is especially promising — for me at least — with films that take place in historical settings or are based on true stories. It can be fascinating to delve into the real-world side of the story.


BD-Live also brings the possibility of making film watching a “wide-area” group experience, something that’s simply not possible with DVD. If several connected people want to watch a movie together without being in the same room, building or even city, BD Live can enable that. So I think the trick is to make BD Live features both easy and fun — no one will want to deal with a complicated control panel or work too hard to use online features. CE players are not computers, and I think our minds are in a different place when we’re in a storytelling mode.

  • HM: Is it important that every Blu-ray player have BD Live capability?

 

  • Parsons: Not until everyone can clearly see and understand the feature’s benefits. It’s easy for those of us in the technology industry to forget that there are a lot of people who love content but are not particularly excited about being first to own the latest technology. Fortunately, the early adopters like lots of new features and functions in their equipment, and are the most likely to have a broadband network in their homes. As more and more compelling BD Live applications come along, these technology leaders can show their neighbors why BD Live should be in their home too.

 

  • HM: Won’t marketing two profiles be confusing to consumers?

 

  • Parsons: I certainly hope not. For now, I think it just comes down to two types of Blu-ray players: one that connects to the Internet (BD Live) and one that doesn’t (BonusView). Compelling BD Live content will be needed to show why an Internet connection on a CE player is desirable.

 

  • HM: What do you say to consumers who are satisfied with standard DVD?

 

  • Parsons: People were satisfied with VHS, too. DVD didn’t exactly explode on the scene in early 1997. It took about three years for most people to understand what it was and how much better the experience was over the incumbent format. Given enough time, consumers should be able to better understand how terrific a Blu-ray title can be, and I think the “DVD is good enough” argument will begin to fade away. I recently dug up an analyst’s statement at the end of 1998 that predicted a “long and healthy life ahead for VHS.” Thank goodness they were wrong.


As for how to compel a transition to Blu-ray, I think this follows the adoption rate of HDTV in the home, which has been quite rapid in the past few years. All those TVs represent a significant investment in the technology by consumers, and we think they are hungry for high-def content. If high-def versions of new titles provide meaningful features that DVD simply cannot offer, it’s not hard to imagine BD eventually overtaking DVD.

  • HM: Does Pioneer manufacture upconverting DVD players? Don’t they undercut the argument to buy Blu-ray?

 

  • Parsons: Yes, we make them, and they do not seem to be interfering with Blu-ray sales as much as you’d think. Upconverting DVD players produce a simulated HD picture, since we’re using mathematical algorithms to guess what’s missing in the picture compared to an actual HDTV signal containing six times as much information. If you do the arithmetic, that means that we’re filling in more than 80% of a picture that wasn’t there before. The methods do surprisingly well — until you look at the Blu-ray version side-by-side with it. Then you can clearly see the difference, particularly on a bigger display with 1080p resolution.


Interestingly, we’re now seeing a shift in interest from upconverting players to Blu-ray, so it seems that our customers understand the point of this feature very well: The upconverting capability makes DVDs look better on an HD display, but nothing beats the HD picture that Blu-ray delivers.


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