Friday, June 12, 2009

BD-Java Features of Blu-ray Discs and Players

Thinking about a Blu-ray player for your next home video purchase? Good choice, but keep in mind ...

Once you decide to go Blu-ray, you are confronted with a welter of confusing features that some players and discs offer, and others do not. For instance, if you look at this list of available Blu-ray Discs at (click on the image below to see the list)

you see a table listing all the Blu-ray Discs yet issued, some 1,552 as of this writing. There are columns labeled "BD Java," "Pic in Pic," "Bonus View," and "BD Live." What do these mean?

In plain language, these have to do with whether a Blu-ray player, playing a Blu-ray Disc as opposed to a DVD, can do certain things: provide interactive menus that "pop up" over disc content; handle "picture-in-picture" video and audio content that plays over top of "regular" disc content; and/or access additional disc content that resides on the Internet, not on the disc.

All of these are optional disc features that, in order to work, have to be supported by capabilities in the player. Not all players support all the features, and not all discs contain all the features. Many Blu-ray Discs have none of these features.

In general, the later the date a model of Blu-ray player was introduced, the more likely it is that all of these disc features are supported. However, some older players can have their onboard firmware updated to support disc features not originally supported at the time the model was introduced ... as long as those players have all the necessary hardware.

Here's a rundown on the features and the computer language which supports them:

BD-Java: All of these features utilize the BD-Java computer language that is geared especially to Blu-ray. BD-Java is also called BD-J, or Blu-ray Disc Java. Basically, it's a programming language that all Blu-ray players support, in some version. Blu-ray players are actually (in addition to being able to play Blu-ray Discs) a kind of computer that runs BD-Java, and Blu-ray discs optionally take advantage of that.

Blu-ray discs that take advantage of BD-Java and the features it supports have to be "authored in BD-Java," which means they possess a different file structure on the disc than they would if they were just "ordinary" Blu-ray Discs that are not authored in BD-Java. Disc "authoring" is, simply, how the various pieces of information that are recorded on the disc are put together by the creators of the disc. Blu-ray discs are authored using files. Much like files on your computer, these files exist in a folder hierarchy on the disc. Blu-ray players, needless to say, hide the file structure/folder hierarchy from user view.

On the page mentioned above, discs that are authored in BD-Java are shown with a "Yes" under BD Java.

Interactive "pop-up" menus: BD-Java disc authoring opens the door to several user capabilities. One is simply the ability for a disc to provide interactive "pop-up" menus. Blu-ray Discs that are not authored in BD-Java must get by with "dumb" menus like those on DVDs, which really aren't "smart" or interactive and can't pop up while the disc continues to play. But Java-authored Blu-ray Discs can have truly interactive pop-up menus that use the BD-Java computer language and file structure.

Here is an example of a pop-up menu:

Not all Java-authored discs provide pop-up menus. Just because a disc is authored in BD-Java does not mean pop-up menus exist on the disc.

Nice as interactive pop-up menus are, most or all Blu-ray Discs which use pop-up menus unfortunately do not allow a Blu-ray Disc player to automatically resume a movie from any arbitrary point in the middle of the movie where the movie was stopped. This is a feature we are used to on DVDs and DVD players, and Blu-ray players also support it on those Blu-ray Discs that don't have pop-up menus. But there is something about discs with BD-Java pop-up menus that prevents this feature from working.

Blu-ray profiles: Every Blu-ray player supports BD-Java — and thus, at a minimum, pop-up menus — but there are three different levels, or "profiles," at which BD-Java support may be included in a playes, depending on when the player model was introduced.

Profile 1.0: The first level of BD-Java support is called Profile 1.0. All Blu-ray players, however early they were introduced, support Profile 1.0 of BD-Java, which is what allows discs to have pop-up menus. (Again, not all discs in fact have interactive pop-up menus, but all players support them if they are in fact present on a disc.)

Profile 1.1: The second level of BD-Java support is Profile 1.1, which has also been dubbed "Bonus View" or "Final Standard Profile" (though it isn't actually final). Profile 1.1 does what Profile 1.0 does — mainly, pop-up menus — plus adding the ability to play a "picture in picture" (PIP) as a secondary audio-video stream from a Blu-ray Disc that is programmed to show one.

If you can see a small window of (say) video commentary on the TV screen, where a director or actor talks about a scene being shown in the background, you may be seeing Bonus View in action. Here is an example from a German Blu-ray title, Neues vom Wixxer:

Blu-ray Discs that offer Bonus View are shown on the page with a "Yes" in the Bonus View column. If you invoke the "Has Bonus View" filter, you will see just the releases with Bonus View — 106 as of this writing. You can play these releases on Profile 1.0 players, but you can't access the Bonus View content.

Keep in mind that some Blu-ray Discs have been issued with PIP implemented by means of a second whole copy of the movie that is recorded separately on the disc with an inset audio-video program over top of the main picture. This is not Bonus View.

Bonus View-compatible players need to have additional hardware, above and beyond that required for Profile 1.0 players: 256 MB of "local storage" — a.k.a. "persistent storage" — such as flash memory or a hard drive (none was required for Profile 1.0); plus secondary video and audio decoders. If a Profile 1.0 player lacks these extra items, it can't be upgraded to Profile 1.1 via a simple firmware upgrade.

Blu-ray Discs that offer picture-in-picture content are shown separately on the page with a "Yes" in the Pic in Pic column. If you employ the "Has Bonus View" filter on that page, you can see that all Bonus View discs are "Pic in Pic" discs. However, there are some "Pic in Pic" discs that don't Bonus View ... and some that don't even use BD-Java.

For example, the movie "Blow" is shown as "Pic in Pic," but not as either "BD-Java" or "Bonus View." These discs don't use BD-Java, and they implement PIP with a second whole copy of the movie.

The movie "The Contract" is shown as having "Pic in Pic" and "Bonus View," but not as having "BD Java." That makes questionable sense. To the best of my understanding, Bonus View requires BD-Java.

Profile 2.0: This is the third (and supposedly final) level of BD-Java support in Blu-ray players — for videos, that is; there is a Profile 3.0 in the works for BD-Audio use.

To the capabilities of Profile 1.1/Bonus View/Final Standard Profile and of Profile 1.0, Profile 2.0 adds an Internet connection via an Ethernet port and/or via a wireless 802.11 (WiFi) adapter. This connection allows players to honor certain Blu-ray Disc titles' ability to access online content. The bonus material on the disc is augmented with additional bonus material from the Internet. This Internet-based extra content is "live" — it can change — and so Profile 2.0 is called "BD-Live."

Players that support Profile 2.0/BD-Live add extra "persistent storage," above and beyond that needed for Profile 1.1, with a minimum of 1 GB of storage being present to hold downloaded content and the like.

All the features of Profile 1.1 and Profile 1.0 are supported by Profile 2.0.

Again, a great many Blu-ray Discs don't make use of Profile 2.0/BD-Live. The ones that do are listed in with a "Yes" under BD Live. As of this writing only 177 are shown, when you invoke the "Has BD Live" filter ... and if you also invoke "Has Bonus View," there are only (as of this moment) 51 Blu-ray Discs released in the U.S. that use both.

Because Profile 2.0/BD-Live requires additional hardware beyond Profile 1.1/Bonus View/Final Standard Profile, unless that hardware happened to be included on a Profile 1.1/Profile 1.0 player, that player cannot be upgraded to Profile 2.0 via a firmware upgrade.

Confusingly, some earlier players that don't support Profile 2.0 do have an Ethernet port. These are strictly for firmware updates and can't be used to access downloadable BD-Live content. Hence, there is no way to upgrade these players to Profile 2.0. (What could they have been thinking?)

Can You Upgrade Blu-ray Discs?

Blu-ray discs have to be authored in BD-Java by their creators and programmed to use interactive pop-up menus and/or Bonus View picture-in-picture content and/or BD-Live content, if those capabilities are to be supported by the disc. (In theory, a disc could be authored with BD-Java and have none of these features.)

Since Blu-ray Discs are read-only, there is no way to "upgrade" a disc to use these features — even if the disc is authored in BD-Java — once the disc is made and is in the customer's hands. Accordingly, a title that was released without BD-Live capability may wind up being re-released in the future with it. The customer who wants to take advantage of BD-Live would have to buy the title a second time, assuming it is ever re-released. (An exception: if a disc includes BD-Live capability in the first place, the online content that it can access can be changed or amplified over time.)

Bookmarks: There is another BD-Java capability that is of interest: the ability for the user to create "bookmarks" that allow any point in a movie that is bookmarked by the user to be returned to at will. A bookmark is sort of like a home-brew chapter stop that the user creates on the fly, usually by pressing a button on the remote, then uses to select where playback of a program moves to or begins the next time the disc is used. A bookmark is sometimes called a "personal scene selection."

I have been unable to discover whether bookmarks officially require any particular BD-Java profile, but they do require that the bookmark capability, which is programmed in BD-Java, be explicitly included on a particular Bu-ray Disc. Hence, only certain discs support bookmarks.

However, I do know that disc-based bookmarks are saved by the Blu-ray player on its "local storage" — which makes sense, since the disc itself is read-only. Since Profile 1.0 does not require the player to have local storage, I assume that bookmarks need a player with Profile 1.1 or Profile 2.0. However, since Profile 2.0 is basically nothing more than the addition of BD-Live online content to Profile 1.1, I assume that all you really need to use disc-based bookmarks is a player with Profile 1.1.

For discs that use "pop-up" menus and accordingly cannot automatically resume playing a stopped disc at the point at which is was stopped, creating and later returning to a bookmark can be something of a workaround to the no-resume-play problem.

Finally, some questions that you may be asking are these:

Why this nasty, arbitrary, incremental approach to advanced disc-and-player features in the Blu-ray world?

Why did the potentates of Blu-ray produce so may player models that can't be upgraded, though they knew from day one what the eventual capabilities of players (and discs) would be?

Why are there, even now, so few Blu-ray Disc releases that take advantage of (any or all of) interactive pop-up menus, Bonus View content, and BD-Live content?

I don't claim to know all the answers, but here are some semi-educated guesses. First of all, for whatever reason, Blu-ray's competitor format HD DVD made it to market, with players and discs, earlier than Blu-ray. Blu-ray was playing catch-up.

And it knew catching up was hopeless if it waited until BD-Java disc authoring and the full set of features it would one day support were mature, fully developed technologies.

So the viziers of Blu-ray rushed their product to market with whatever capabilities were ready to go.

Meanwhile, HD DVD was designed in a dissimilar way, with no full-scale equivalent to BD-Java. So HD DVD could be there "firstest with the mostest," with features like picture-in-picture built in from the get-go.

To add injury to insult, rushing Blu-ray to market meant that the first disc releases could not be on dual-layer discs, since the facilities for manufacturing those discs weren't ready. Hence, single-layer releases were the norm. That's since been corrected. Plus, the advanced video codecs "VC-1" and "AVC" weren't yet supported by disc-mastering facilities, so MPEG-2 (the codec used on DVDs) had to be used. That, too, is ancient history. But for a while, the fact that MPEG-2 doesn't compress video nearly as compactly as VC-1 and AVC (also called MPEG4/h.264) meant that it was hard to shoehorn a movie into a single-layer disc without over-compressing it, harming visual quality. There were a lot of complaints that Blu-ray Discs didn't look as good as HD DVDs.

All in all, it's a wonder the Blu-ray format survived at all. But it did, and today it's alone on the battlefield. HD DVD is dead.

Unfortunately, though, the contortions Blu-ray had to go through to avoid having to run up a white flag have left us with a legacy of confusing profiles and player-and-disc features to contend with, as we try to be smart Blu-ray consumers.

For more on the different Blu-ray profiles, see For information about the way content on Blu-ray Discs is organized, "The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ" at

No comments: