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Blu-ray Hardware Specs Playing Game of Catch-up

28 Sep, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

Nov. 1 is supposed to be a big day for Blu-ray Disc. As mandated by the Blu-ray Disc Association, any set-top player certified after Oct. 31 must meet Blu-ray profile 1.1 specifications, bringing all Blu-ray manufacturers under the same guidelines to support Blu-ray special features.

Profile 1.1, also known as “Final Standard Profile,” adds a secondary audio decoder, allowing for interactive commentaries, a secondary video decoder, allowing for picture-in-picture features, and requires support for 256MB of memory, either built in or from a memory card or USB flash drive.

In short, most of the special features the HD DVD camp has been touting would be supported by Blu-ray as well. And when most Blu-ray players start supporting profile 2.0, or BD Live, the two formats would be on complete equal footing in the extras department (BD Live allows for a network connection and calls for a full gigabyte of storage).

But after all the new Blu-ray set-top boxes were announced at the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo in Denver in early September, Adam Gregorich of the Home Theater Forum noticed a problem.

“I found it telling that of all the new players announced at CEDIA, only one company announced players that support profile 1.1,” he said, pointing to two Denon players, the DVD-3800BDCI and DVD-2500BTCI, which are slated for release in 2008. “Also, there is no ‘sunset clause' on existing players, so any player shipping before [Oct. 31] can continue shipping as a [version] 1.0 player indefinitely.”

Disney has announced two titles that have special features that require BD Live for 2008: National Treasure and Sleeping Beauty. Several 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray titles in the pipeline call for picture-in-picture features.

But what if few set-top players available to consumers can play the special features?

“I think that BD has a chicken-and-egg problem,” Gregorich said, adding most existing Blu-ray players won't be upgradeable, with the exception of the PlayStation 3, because of its high-powered central processing unit. “The studios don't want to include features that people with current players can't use, and the hardware manufactures don't want to make players when there is no software to support the features.

“This is one of the things that HD DVD got right. They required Ethernet, persistent storage and secondary video decoders from day one.”

Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association's U.S. Promotions Group, downplayed the impact non-profile 1.1 or 2.0 Blu-ray set-tops will have, noting the advanced interactive features supported by basic Blu-ray Java should work on every player.

“If studios put BD Live on their discs, the only thing that would be missing would be online functionality [for earlier Blu-ray models],” he said. “The impact on the consumer should be minimal.

“All players after Oct. 31 must comply with that (1.1 profile). That's not going to change.”And for picture-in-picture features, a workaround is possible without a second video recorder, due to the larger capacity of Blu-ray, Gregorich noted: two copies of the same film can be included on one BD-50, one where the secondary picture is burned into the film, the second including only the standard film.

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