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Blu-ray Disc Java is coming this fall, and it may be incompatible with some of today's machines

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 this fall.

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 audio.

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].”

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RE: Java
By TomZ on 4/2/2007 11:17:56 PM , Rating: 3
What's especially ironic in my view is that Java has traditionally been a terrible environment for developing GUIs. And this is the very application for Java in BD!

But they will overcome it just like other have had to with Java - develop yet another custom GUI framework. Such a waste.

RE: Java
By tfranzese on 4/3/2007 12:13:44 AM , Rating: 2
Eclipse and other tools can be setup so that Java GUI development is just as fluid as VB and .NET

I'm no fan of Swing, but there are some good IDEs that take a lot of the pain out of creating a Java GUI.

RE: Java
By saratoga on 4/3/2007 10:02:23 AM , Rating: 2
Eclipse is just a dev environment. It doesn't change the crappiness of Java GUI libraries one bit. It may make they easier to write, but they're still sort of ugly once you are done. IMO SWT does more then Eclipse to address this, but its still behind what Windows and MacOS developers are used to IMO.

That said I don't think this will be a real issue. You don't need much from a GUI to run a DVD menu system, so Java should be fine.

RE: Java
By TomZ on 4/3/2007 11:56:25 AM , Rating: 2
It will be fine as you say, but it will also probably require the development of yet another GUI framework, since none of the existing frameworks meet the requirements (think WPF, Vista, etc. which are at the forefront of visual GUI design in the mainstream).

RE: Java
By ElCapitanAmerica on 4/4/2007 7:43:26 PM , Rating: 2
Doesn't run on HD-DVD, it's a bit irrelevant to this discussion really.

RE: Java
By TomZ on 4/5/2007 9:49:33 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not saying that WPF, Vista, etc. run on HD-DVD. My point is that today's expectations of a GUI are far beyond what they have in the past. Therefore, any modern GUI framework developed today would have to meet those same requirements, i.e., the same requirements as WPF.

RE: Java
By TomZ on 4/3/2007 12:08:35 PM , Rating: 2
I'm no fan of Swing, but there are some good IDEs that take a lot of the pain out of creating a Java GUI.

Apparently you have not had the experience of trying to design a reasonable GUI with Swing, and then doing the same with Visual Studio and .NET. There is no comparison between the two - Visual Studio is easier and delivers much better results. Add to that the proliferation of really high quality third-party GUI components available for WinForms...

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