Blu Capabilities Still Up in the Air11 Apr, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey
The future is Blu, but what of the future for Blu-ray Disc special features? With Profile 2.0 players emerging, and the PlayStation 3 now with Profile 2.0 (also known as BD Live) upgradable, more studios are testing the limits of bonus features.
HD DVD from the start had the ability to connect users to the Internet, download new content and connect with other users. Blu-ray is just getting started.
“The rush to compete with HD DVD brought Blu-ray to market more quickly than it would otherwise have been released, and thus with fewer than all possible capabilities out of the gate,” said HollywoodinHiDef.com's Scott Hettrick.
He added that not worrying about Web-enabled features let Blu-ray producers refine pop-up menus and picture-in-picture capabilities. Xiao Fang, webmaster of Digital-Digest.com, agreed, saying most of his readers weren't focused on Web features at first.
“I have to say that from a survey of Blu-ray and HD DVD owners, the title which they felt represented the best in terms of presentation and special features has been the Blade Runner five-disc collector's edition, which featured multiple versions of the movie, including a rare workprint version,” he said. But now that BD Live is becoming more of a standard, studios are being bolder with their bonuses.
“A good example of this was the ‘Alien vs. Predator vs. You' demonstration that Fox showed at this year's [Consumer Electronics Show],” said Andy Parsons, SVP of product planning for the home entertainment group at Pioneer Electronics and marketing director of the Blu-ray Disc Association. The feature lets two BD Live players anywhere in the world play a game superimposed on top of the film as it runs on both players.
Lionsgate also has rolled out its Movie Blog feature (MoLog) on Blu-ray Discs, letting viewers chat with each other about the movie during or after the film. Sony Pictures' April 8 BD releases Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The 6th Day both include downloadable content.
But Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com, said the studios should look beyond what HD DVD started.
“My fear is that all the new interactive capabilities on Blu-ray are going to tend to be used simply as window-dressing, but they're not really going to add anything of value,” Hunt said. “I'd like to see new ways to interact with the content, more immersion, etc. I don't want screensavers and U-Store links. I liked what Bandai tried to do with Freedom Vol. 1, for example. Being able to download new subtitle sets, new trailers and menu schemes. That's potentially very cool.”
Hunt said studios might be hard-pressed to convince consumers to replace DVDs with Blu-rays, based on special features. But Fang thinks studios may take a second shot at titles they released on high-def already.
“We have heard from studios that they have so far been limited to what they can produce on Blu-ray as compared to HD DVD,” Fang said. “In fact you will find many HD DVD editions of movies available in both formats to be superior in terms of interactivity — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for example. BD Live is now here, so studios have much more freedom to work with, and might have to re-release certain titles with enhanced features.”
But for all the bonus features on BD, the film is the main thing consumers want, high-def experts agreed.
“I don't think [bonus features] help motivate people to upgrade to Blu-ray, but I do think it'll help them decide to buy a movie instead of rent,” said Ben Drawbaugh, a high-def reporter for Engadget.com. “This is the exciting part about Web content: It holds the promise of adding more value to a title down the road.”
Van Ling, a freelance DVD and Blu-ray producer and visual effects supervisor who worked on the Blu-ray special features for Independence Day, said the industry is still learning about the possibilities of the format.
“There are so many cool ideas being tried with Blu-ray right now, and no single feature has made me say, ‘Stop the presses, that's it!' It's more along the lines of, ‘Wow, if you were to take the underlying concept of that special feature and apply it to this other idea,’ he said.
For all the features Blu-ray owners find on their discs, it may pale in comparison to what's down the road. What's coming after the “Telestrator” commentary on Men in Black and the “living menus” on Sleeping Beauty?
“When the studios turn their creative people loose with powerful new features, they will almost certainly develop something very cool that even the format's designers did not imagine,” Parsons said.