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|06-20-2004, 04:34 AM||#1|
Blu-ray Summit Report
June 18, 2004 - It's been a busy time for the next-generation of DVD. In early June, the DVD Forum steering committee approved the final physical specification for HD-DVD, to be the Forum-endorsed successor to DVD.
The Blu-ray Consortium isn't slowing down, either. On Thursday there was a meeting in Los Angeles where members outlined new developments and laid out a roadmap for their technology, plus other plans.
One thing both sides have in common: they aren't bending. Blu-ray, led by Sony and Phillips, is going one way while the Forum is going another, and neither will give. It's really looking like Beta/VHS all over again, but Sony apparently doesn't want a repeat of history.
Among the news, the Consortium discussed its demise, sort of. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), announced last month, would be its successor as a more formal structure. It's open to any members and will have a board of directors, task forces, joint technical committees, compliance committees and promotional committees.
There will be a seminar with potential members in San Jose on July 28, followed by an August 3 meeting in Japan. The Association will launch in October, and the Consortium will dissolve.
Blu-ray DVD is currently on the market in Japan at an exorbitant price - $4,000. It won't come to the U.S. shores until at least late 2005 if not 2006. The studios are betting on the adoption of HDTV sets to drive Blu-ray. After all, a full screen TV gets no benefit from an High Definition DVD. There are an estimated nine million HDTV sets installed in the U.S. currently and a projected 25 million will be sold by 2005.
They also emphasized Blu-ray is not going to make current DVD obsolete. "I'd be foolish to sit here and think it's not going to be around much longer," Andy Parsons, senior vice president of advanced product development for Pioneer Electronics told the crowd.
The consortium expects Blu-ray to piggyback onto DVD and be a gradual replacement, but there won't be the wholesale market shift like we saw with the move from VHS, where people couldn't get away from it fast enough.
One of the themes hammered home more than once at the meeting was that HD-DVD simply doesn't offer the capacity needed. A single-layer HD-DVD disc will hold 15GB of content and a dual layer disc holds 30GB. Blu-ray discs, by contrast hold 25/50GB in single and dual layer configurations. Current DVD capacity is 4.7GB/9.4GB for single/dual layer discs.
"We don't want to compromise on the requirements for players," said Michael Fidler, senior vice president of the Blu-ray Disc Group at Sony. "We don't want a solution that's just good for a few years out, we want to look five to ten years down the road."
The increased capacity has its obvious benefits. Not only could films be presented in high definition 1920x1024 resolution, instead of the 720x480 for standard definition video (currently used in DVD), but so could the extras. Most DVD bonus materials are done in full frame, non-anamorphic video with two-channel audio to save space on the disc.
A single-layer Blu-ray disc would allow for up to 135 minutes of high definition video, three languages and two hours of regular bonus material. A dual-layered disc, though, could hold three hours of HD video, a DTS mix and two hours of HD bonus materials.
To put it another way, that's the two-disc version of Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World or each of the Extended Editions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers on a single disc. With a 36 megabits/sec. data transfer rate, it will put even Sony's Superbit DVDs to shame.
One of the biggest problems for DVD right now is encryption since, thanks to DeCSS, there isn't any. HD-DVD's backers have not settled on an encryption routine, but Blu-ray does. It uses an AES 128-bit key that changes every six kilobytes, with technologies to prevent bit-by-bit copying and bus encryption for Blu-ray-based ROM drives for PCs.
If one key is compromised, as was the case with DVD, the BDA can simply revoke that key. Finally, only licensed Blu-ray manufacturers can make or copy a Blu-ray disc.
The codec for Blu-ray, however, is not set. HD-DVD will use MPEG2, the current DVD codec, Microsoft's WM9 (VC-9) and MPEG-4 AVC (H.264). This will make HD-DVD decks backwards compatible with existing DVD players.
Blu-ray is still mulling its choice for a next-generation codec. It too will support MPEG 2 - one speaker said it would be "suicide" not to - but the forum is also looking at MPEG 4 AVC FRExt and Microsoft's VC-9. With MPEG 4, the studios think they can get two to three times the compression as they get with MPEG 2.
Fidler predicts that Blu-ray discs will appear in both standard definition and high definition video, depending on the product. For example, television series sets often come on up to six discs or more. Since almost none are in high definition except a few current shows, they wouldn't need an MPEG 4 treatment. However, they could easily fit onto one BR disc using current MPEG 2 technology rather than several standard DVD discs.
One of the major differences between Blu-ray and HD-DVD had been that Blu-ray would require a cartridge to hold the disc. That's all changed now that TDK, a new member to the consortium, has developed a new hard-coat layer that protects the disc.
As a demonstration, someone from TDK drew on the media side of a BR disc with a sharpie pen, and the ink refused to stick. Instead, it just beaded up and stayed wet, which was then wiped right off using a hotel table cloth, no less. No doubt the hotel cleaning staff weren't too amused.
Along with the home theater use, the Consortium plans to bring Blu-ray to PCs everywhere with BD-ROM. DVD-ROM has been a dud on the PC; almost all software shipped today is on CD-ROM, very little comes on DVD-ROM. But they are moving forward with it.
With Hewlett-Packard and Dell leading the way, BD-ROM will offer not only the hardware level protection mentioned earlier, but also some new interactive technologies. For starters, BD-ROM will support a Java layer, so BD-ROM software will be dynamically changeable.
In a demo, they showed the animated, high definition menus of a BD-ROM title and how it was possible to download a new language track for a film, have it automatically installed and the language option added to the movie's language menu.
The drives will also support a content push, so publishers can inform their customers that some kind of update is available and send it to them, or let the user download it.
Blu-Window will provide on-screen menus for BD-ROM titles much in the same way you have on-screen menus on DVD players that you can bring up while the movie plays. Blu-Door allows for content control, such as locking content that people can purchase or access after viewing something.
Cost was discussed at great length, and I won't bore you with the manufacturing process except to say that they are touting the fact it will eventually cost less than standard DVD due to needing less equipment. Initially, though, Blu-ray discs will cost around 10 percent more than standard DVD.
The companies present refused to comment on a potential price for home Blu-ray consoles. If Sony's Japanese unit, the BDZ-S77 is any indication, prices have a long way to go before customers are willing to bite. The Blu-ray recorder costs 450,000 yen, or around $4,000 US. That will not sit well even with home theater enthusiasts.
Interestingly enough, Blu-ray may or may not have regional encoding. Parsons said during a Q&A session that it's still under review, although the studios do want it.
There was one element of Blu-ray Sony was not willing to discuss: PlayStation 3. It's been rumored the PS3 will support Blu-ray, and would make sense from a corporate standpoint, but no one there would say if this is the case.
The outputs for Blu-ray aren't finalized, but it's likely to support all of the interfaces - S-video, component and composite, but also newer interfaces like Digital Video Interface (DVI) and 1394 FireWire 5C, which uses DTCP (Digital Transmission Content Protection).
Sony has 1,500 titles ready to go for High Definition, according to Fidler. Any Sony DVD that has "Mastered in High Definition" on the back of the case means it's ready to be reissued for a Blu-ray DVD player.
There was no HD-DVD bashing, per se. No one returned the favor from Warren Lieberfarb, the former Warner Home Video executive considered "the father of DVD" who went off on Blu-ray a few weeks back.
With the hardware makers and studios lining up behind Blu-ray, privately if not publicly, Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits thinks it's all over but the shouting. "Sony and the Blu-ray group have their act together and I have yet to see anything resembling coherence from the HD-DVD people, anything resembling readiness. They have to get their ducks lined up because Blu-ray is making them look silly right now," he said.
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