Monday, March 03, 2008

Blu-ray Player Profiles

One of the things about the Blu-ray disc that makes it superior to the DVD is its ability to provide "enhanced" interactive video content of a sort yet to be seen in home TV-based entertainment. Some of the "enhanced" content is recorded on Blu-ray discs themselves; other such content is expected to be downloaded by the player from the Web.

The Panasonic DMP-BD30K was the first standalone Blu-ray player to include Blu-ray Profile 1.1 for handling interactive disc content, also known as the "Final Standard Profile" or "Bonus View." Previous players implemented only the "Grace Period Profile," aka Profile 1.0 or "BD-Video."

Profile-1.0 players — i.e., all of the early player models — cannot deal with much if anything in the way of interactive disc content. True, they do use BD-Java, aka BD-J, a programming language devised specifically for Blu-ray, so they can utilize "enhanced" disc menus, if they're present on a disc. (For a list of Blu-ray titles that have "enhanced" BD-Java content, click here.)

But other "enhanced" Blu-ray content requires Profile 1.1. All Blu-ray player models released to market after November 1, 2007, are required to be Profile 1.1-compliant. The Panasonic DMP-BD30K was actually released just before that deadline and became the first 1.1-compliant player.

Profile 1.1 players are capable of using special interactive content encoded on certain Blu-ray disc releases, such as filmmaker commentaries intended to be displayed along with the film, using PIP (picture-in-picture). Profile 1.0 players generally cannot use PIP content, and they typically cannot be upgraded to Profile 1.1. The reason is that Profile 1.0 players usually lack enough local storage and/or the hardware decoders needed to decode more than one audio/video stream at once. (For a rundown on the hardware and software requirements of the various Blu-ray profiles, click here.)

An exception is the Sony PlayStation 3, a video game console cum stealth Blu-ray player, which has always had the necessary hardware for implementing Profile 1.1 and was made 1.1-compliant by System Software version 2.10, released on December 10, 2007.

Profile 1.1 is now (as of early 2008) in the process of being superseded in the most recently announced player models by Profile 2.0, aka "BD-Live," which includes full Profile 1.1 functionality plus the ability to use interactive content from the Internet as well as on the disc. BD-Live requires network connectivity in a Blu-ray player, a requirement met by the PlayStation 3 but not by many early standalone Blu-ray players.

Future system software upgrades to the Sony PlayStation 3 are expected to make it capable of using BD-Live content, but, again, most standalone players to date are not BD-Live ready and lack the ability to be upgraded to support BD-Live.

The Panasonic DMP-BD50 is, as of early March 2008, one of the handful of announced Blu-ray players that will support BD-Live.

Also expected to arrive fairly soon are the Sony BDP-S350 ($400) and the Sony BDP-S550 ($500). Both will support BD-Live, but the cheaper is called only "BD-Live ready," while the more expensive is "BD-Live capable." (See this coverage of Sony's announcement.) The distinction means that the BDP-S350 needs to have optional USB flash-based memory connected to its external port to provide sufficient local storage, since BD-Live requires at least 1 GB of local storage. The BDP-S550 ships with a 1GB storage device.

The first BD-Live movie titles, War and Saw IV, were released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate in January 2008, despite the fact that no players yet existed to play the Web-enhanced content. More BD-Live disc releases can be expected in coming months.

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