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Blu-Ray Set to Hit the Ground Running

29 Nov, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

“We have the momentum,” said Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment today at a presentation of Blu-ray Disc backers.

With seven out of eight major studios on board with the high-definition format, and 140 consumer electronics companies representing 90 percent of the CE market, Blu-ray has a major leg up on the competition, he said.

Dunn said the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has been working closely with retailers for the last two months to prep for a 2006 launch.

Even if the “HD DVD folks decide to go ahead with a launch,” added Andy Parsons, SVP of advanced product development for Pioneer, there will be a significant “content gap” when it comes to what consumers see on the shelves.

Factor in the Blu-ray ready Sony PlayStation 3 and you've got what looks a lot like a killer app, presenters noted.

Blu-ray backers in attendance hedged questions on a specific launch date for the high-definition hardware and software but were firm on hopes for a spring launch, even though the BDA — as are HD DVD proponents — is still waiting on compliance and robustness rules from the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) Licensing Authority.

That should come in plenty of time for a 2006 launch, Parsons said. However, it will have an effect on when in 2006 Blu-ray discs and players hit the market, he said.

The BDA will host a launch event at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Jan. 5 at 5 p.m.

"Sony definitely believes CES is going to be a great opportunity to launch the format. I won't say anything beyond that,” said Victor Matsuda, VP, Blu-ray Disc Group for Sony Corp. of America. “We are planning to have very prominent announcements at CES.”

Parsons said the BDA would love to get Microsoft and other HD DVD backers, such as Intel and Universal Studios Home Entertainment, on board with Blu-ray before CES.

As for Blu-ray backers on the content side, “we're ready,” said Bob Chapek, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Chapek showcased (for the first time in a public setting) samples of how consumers will be able to interact with Blu-ray discs, from picture-in-picture viewing of extra features on Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure, to linking up with Cinderella live from Disneyland in real-time via a Blu-ray disc for a “party” with online games for the kids.

Educating consumers on the interactive capabilities of Blu-ray is going to be key in early marketing of the format, Chapek said.

Danny Kaye, SVP of research and technology strategy for Fox, brought along samples from Master and Commander and I, Robot that demonstrated the “seamless and synchronous” access to menu options and settings that Blu-ray consumers will have. Viewers can access menu options, set subtitle options, skip to different chapters and access bonus features in the middle of watching the movie.

Of course, the waters ahead are not all calm, BDA members in attendance noted. Of particular concern is the analog output compatibility issue that could put early HDTV set buyers, the core new-technology consumer, out of the mix.

It's a “fairly contentious issue,” the question of allowing AACS copy protection to travel through analog components, but it is one that is being seriously debated within the BDA, Parsons said.

“I don't think anyone is interested in alienating those consumers,” he said.

The Blu-ray rollout will be similar to DVD, not all content will be available at once, but consumers will start to see product in the next six to 12 months, Parsons said.

“We don't want to rush something to market that's not ready, especially when it is as technologically complex as Blu-ray,” he said. “We'd rather do it right than do it quick but we do want to get the product launched as quickly as possible.”

Some Blu-ray copy-protection myths need to be debunked, speakers said, responding to questions about Microsoft CEO Bill Gates recent comments to the Princeton newspaper that his company went with HD DVD because Blu-ray copy protection was too restrictive.

Parsons said the BDA is hoping to “clarify” the fact that neither the added copy protection of BD+ nor the format's ROM protections will interfere with AACS or any kind of managed copy DRM.

“It is not at all our intention to interfere with managed copy,” he said.

Sony BMG's recent debacle with the XCP software it included on 50 music CDs last year also came up. XCP automatically installed hidden software with potential security holes onto users computers.

That is “a totally irrelevant issue” for Blu-ray discs, said Andrew Setos, president of engineering at Fox. “That was an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “This is a completely different animal.”

Any software or copy-protection applications on a Blu-ray disc would interact in very specific ways with a computer, heading straight to DVD player components, not hiding or living in random or unknown spaces on consumers' hard drives as did the Sony BMG programs, Setos said.

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