The most common piece of advice given to those unsure about which
high-definition optical format to buy is to simply wait until a victor emerges.
Early adopters, however, should be aware that being cutting edge could come
with a price, such as the risk of bugs or complete hardware and software obsolescence.
The Blu-ray Disc Association has mandated that all players
of the format released after October 31 must adhere to a specific feature set
that is currently not standard for today’s hardware. All Blu-ray Disc players
after the fall date must support BD Java, a programming language for Blu-ray
Disc media used mainly to deliver picture-in-picture for in-movie commentary
and special features.
“Blu-ray player requirements and BD-Java specifications have
been gradually changed over and over again, which has caused a good amount of
grief for player manufacturers,” said optical storage analyst Wesley Novack. “The new specification and
requirements will ensure that all Blu-ray players manufactured past October
will be able to support the full range of BD-Java capabilities, including picture
in picture and more.”
Early adopters of Blu-ray players may find themselves with
inadequate hardware to support media using BD Java software.
Novack continued, “This might be bad news for early adopters
who have already purchased a player, but it will not prevent them from playing
back future Blu-ray movies. Owners of first generation Blu-ray players will
probably not be able to use the full range of interactive features available on
future Blu-ray Disc titles.”
Owners of current Blu-ray Disc players who are concerned
about the future utility of their hardware are assured by manufacturers that
current players won’t be made completely obsolete with the new standard.
“As is common in new format introductions, future products
will include some additional features such as picture-in-picture,” said Philips
VP Marty Gordon to Video Business.
“Regardless of whether first-generation hardware supports these new features,
the discs will still play.”
Unlike the HD DVD standard, Blu-ray players are not required
to have Ethernet ports for firmware updates. Blu-ray machines with upgradable
firmware likely will have a greater chance of conforming to the mandated format
Although HD DVD is not without its own set of early
adopter issues, support for a standard programming language is already
solidified for the format. HDi, an XML-based format developed by Microsoft and
Toshiba, is mandatory on all HD DVD players and enables picture-in-picture
special features to run alongside the feature length film.
Warner Bros. has released titles such as Batman Begins and V for Vendetta for HD DVD but not Blu-ray for the sole reason of
the latter format’s lack of standardization. The upcoming Matrix trilogy release will also
appear on HD DVD first for the same reason. Warner Bros. said that it would
release Blu-ray Disc versions of such films in the fall, assumingly after the
BD Java mandate takes effect.
Paramount has taken a different approach with Blu-ray’s
apparent shortcoming. The studio released Mission:
Impossible 3 on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, though the HD DVD version features
a video picture-in-picture commentary, while the Blu-ray version does only with
Only a couple Blu-ray movies feature picture-in-picture
commentaries, those titles being Descent
and Crank, though they do so without
BD Java. Cleverly, and perhaps inelegantly, two complete versions of the movie
are stored on a 50GB Blu-ray disc. One version contains the normal version of
the film, while the second one features the picture-in-picture commentary
hard-encoded on top of the film.
The addition of BD Java is not the only new requirement for
Blu-ray players this fall. All players released after October 31 must hold a
minimum 256MB of persistent memory storage. Those with network options will have
to have 1GB of memory to support Web downloads.
Famed DVD producer, Van Ling, expresses discontent over the
lack of standardization of the Blu-ray format. “The whole problem comes in when
some manufacturers toe the minimum line and some others might make twice the
minimum [functionality] on players,” said Ling. “In my view, I shouldn’t have
to know what every single player can do. Rather than downgrade my creative
vision for the lowest common denominator player, I want to create something
[that fully realizes Blu-ray abilities].”