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BD Comes Alive

25 Aug, 2008 By: Billy Gil

Years ago, few could have imagined you could put a movie disc into a player and play games with fellow viewers, set up a user profile on a studio site or download free extra content onto discs long after the film has been released. Yet that’s the reality for BD Live-enabled Blu-ray Discs. And according to content developers, there’s plenty more to come.

“Extending the film experience into the home is what Blu-ray delivers,” said David Jessen, VP of Blu-ray and DVD creative production for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. “We will work closely with the filmmaking community to develop entertaining and compelling opportunities to push the technology further to create must-own, one-of-a-kind home entertainment.”

Jessen’s comments are echoed by those in BD Live development at other studios, who are toiling to bring the latest features to life.

“Every week we’re learning new things,” said Rich Marty, VP of new business development for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Interactive features Studios have launched BD Live discs with materials, such as trailers, that can be downloaded online.

“We have plans to release a title that will feature our first downloadable exclusive video content, totaling nearly one hour of additional HD entertainment,” Disney’s Jessen said. But content developers said that much of the additional content available on studio BD Live sites after the titles are released will be interactive.

“The possibilities are limitless with Internet connectivity,” Sony’s Marty said.

Marty said roughly 20% of people buying BD Live-enabled titles are engaging in the additional features. He said Sony is working on in-movie chat, already available on Disney and Lionsgate titles.

Lionsgate’s Miguel Casillas, SVP of DVD production, said the mini-major will have an updated MoLog feature this fall. MoLog lets viewers talk with each other online as well as blog about the film, with access from Internet-connected computers and devices as well.

“We are working on an all-inclusive portal that will bridge the gap between packaged goods and online and mobile content,” Casillas said.

Sven Davison, 20th Century Fox’s VP of DVD production, said the studio is working on allowing viewers to create avatars and add them into movies, hoping to have the feature available on a disc this year. (A similar feature is available on Sony Pictures’ Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.) He said Fox is working on creating a social networking aspect for its BD site, allowing users to create content and share it with friends.

Davison also said to expect new features in the future such as shopping for clothing or props from films as well as online chats with directors.

“BD is already the best high-definition movie-watching experience, and soon it will become the best medium to link the film with online communities, live events with talent and filmmakers — and even allow users to design the content of the disc,” Lionsgate’s Casillas said. “The future has endless possibilities.”

Video games

One of the most popular features on such discs as Sony Pictures’ 21 and Men in Black is the games.

“It’s going to be a really great complement to the films,” Marty said. “It’s first and foremost about the visuals and audio, but BD Live enables us to bridge technologies.”

David Glassner, director of content development, menus and interactive for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said the games are based on a “ladder board” concept in which viewers compete with one another via the BD Live site.

Glassner said BD Live games will never compete with PlayStation 3 games, but the studio has looked into hybrid discs with the PS3. Marty said a possibility would be PS3 game demos on Blu-ray Discs, such as the first level of a movie-based PS3 game.

“It’s the best of all technologies, all on one disc,” Marty said.

Indeed, though Sony makes the PS3, Sony Pictures isn’t the only studio looking to take advantage of the game system.

“There are major plans in play on how to leverage the full capability of the PS3 within our BD discs,” Lionsgate’s Casillas said.

Meanwhile, Jessen said Disney will hold off any partnerships for now.

Fox’s Davison said the studio is interested in working with other gaming platforms, but also will focus on further developing Blu-ray Disc games.

“We’re looking at community gaming and things beyond trivia, which is low-hanging fruit,” Davison said.

The future of BD Live?

Developers agree that Blu-ray Disc, and BD Live, will look much different six months to a year from now.

Sony’s Marty said the studio is keeping track of what people are downloading and interacting with in order to respond with more of the desirable features.

“We definitely want to cater to what they’re interested in,” Marty said. “We’re really at the days of Pong for BD Live.”

Marty said Sony Pictures will have BD Live with at least downloadable trailers available for every Blu-ray Disc coming out. Specifically created features, such as games, will be on specific titles only.

“[Disney is] currently in the process of expanding internationally our BD Live network and its four pillars — movie chat, movie challenge, movie mail and movie rewards — so that we can create a global interactive Disney Blu-ray community,” Jessen said. “In addition, we are expanding the network across other brands, so that we can enhance the ABC TV on DVD, Touchstone and Miramax home entertainment experiences.”

Fox’s Davison said picture-in-picture has been especially popular, and that the studio is developing features within picture-in-picture.

“Universally people like the PIP feature,” Davison said. “There will be a title announced fairly soon with PIP throughout the entire film. A lot of people seem to be interested in the idea that they can have a behind-the-scenes visual reference for every single scene in a movie.”

Both Davison and Lionsgate’s Casillas said they think younger users will embrace the chat and in-movie games, while older users might be more interested in additional disc content.

“The important thing is that BD Live is scalable and can be updated and uploaded — even after the disc has been purchased,” Casillas said. “That’s a concept that is still new in home video — evergreen content on packaged

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