IFA 2008: Blu-ray Disc Assc. Press Conference

IFA Consumer Electronics Show

DVD Times is present at 2008's Blu-ray Disc Association Press Conference. A summary of events follows.

5:00pm: After a few jitters, audio dropouts and shakes, a video plays. It has clips from various BD movies and looks great. After it, David Walstra appears and apologizes for the hiccup at the beginning of the video - he tripped over the HDMI cable.

He says that he hopes BD is still exciting to the press, and goes on to talk about BD Live. Come on David, BD is the only real way to watch high quality video at home (even with some of the stuff the studios are putting out). It doesn't need an ethernet jack and some corny games to be exciting!

Frank Simonis takes the stand. He talks a lot about sales figures and basically gives a rundown of the BDA, its members (there's 190+ of them), and then goes on to tackle the issue of downloadable movies. The next slide, entitled "Will consumers skip Blu-ray for Internet HD" makes such good points that it's necessary to reproduce it here rather than summarize:

Frank discusses sales figures. Long story short: they are good.

Time for some info on BD software. Sales are excellent in Europe: 5.2m units of software sold to date, growth rates at 400% year on year (source: GfK). "Clearly consumers are embracing the format".

"True high definition picture is the overwhelming reason" for this. Sony PHE have done surveys, and over 70% of respondents replied that the number one purchase driver was BD's "true high definition picture quality".

But despite this, the talk turns to BD Live. Sony PHE is committed to it and is "extending the disc experience by offering new content". A video showing the BD Live integration on the Starship Troopers 3 BD plays: you can upload a picture of yourself and 'star' in the movie. It gets a few chuckles.

"BD Live is exciting, and it's exceeded all our expectations. There is a consumer appetite for this exciting new functionality. These are early days for BD Live, and are just some examples of what it can do". Moving forward, ALL Sony PHE titles in Europe will be BD Live enabled.

Next clip shows Warner's 2008 BD titles. Afterwards, Monica Juniel, VP of International Marketing at Warner Home Video comes out with a concise and to the point presentation. They're happy with how BD is going, but "there are a few things we see which are slowing us down a bit". Warner are upset that PS3 owners don't buy as many BD movie titles as owners of dedicated players.

"We're thrilled to bits to have those consoles out there, [...] but we need more set top players out there, and we need the PS3 households to buy more movies". Standalone owners buy about twice as many discs as PS3 households.

Next problem: BD awareness is high, but familiarity is low. Barriers to purchase are mentioned: over 50% of people say the players are too expensive, and they're indifferent to BD. "Indifference here is telling us that they're completely happy with their standard definiton setup" and don't see a reason to move up.

Warner's plan: bundle titles with BD players and PS3s. The second initiative is to get PS3 households to buy Blu-ray Remote addons. Apparently, owners of PS3 remote controls buy 5 discs annually instead of 2. Given how annoying controlling a movie with a game pad is, I'm not surprised! Next plan: better "retail experience". Monica wants displays with SD DVD and BD playing beside each other to show consumers the difference.

Next: Gordon Ho from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. He says that Disney loves delivering killer applications. "Five years ago, Disney made a commitment to BD" and is very confident now in releasing killer apps. The "crown jewels" are Disney's animated classics: the Platinum line, which is now coming to BD. Pinocchio, Snow White, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are on the way. A trailer plays. Oh me, oh my, does this look amazing! Footage is shown of 1080p 101 Dalmatians, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and other Disney 2D animated classics.

Sleeping Beauty is already coming out this Autumn. "How many people have seen Sleeping Beauty? Whether on video, LaserDisc, DVD? I promise you've never seen Sleeping Beauty until you've seen it on Blu-ray High Def". Gordon talks about how the restoration was performed from the 2.55:1 nitrate negative, [please ignore the earlier "2.35" typo] and mentions that the original audio stems were found in a vault in Disney's German office, meaning it was possible to remix the audio to 7.1.

Gordon shows us 1080p Sleeping Beauty. Like all of Disney's restorations, it's totally grainless, and it looks very saturated. So, not very filmic, but nevertheless very appealing.

Sleeping Beauty BD also has a corny bonus feature: "The Dragon Encounter". "What would it be like if a dragon was released in your living room?". A 3D render of a dragon chases the fairies from the film around a prison cell, and does it loudly.

The last thing to show off is a surprise: he has the beta disc of Sleeping Beauty and shows a new feature. "The thing about Disney villainesses is that they know everything about out heroes: where they are, where they're hiding..." The game is a take on "20 Questions", and the Blu-ray player asks you to think of an object, asks a bazillion questions ("Is it smaller than a loaf of bread?", "Does it have writing on it?"), and then tells you what you were thinking of.

He asks for audience participation, and someone says they're thinking of a car. After about 5 minutes of questioning, the disc tells us that the object we had in mind was... a sports car! I knew Sony had put some creepy features in the BD spec, but really!

After some more statistics (all good), it's time for Q&A!

Question one asks for an opinion: the studios supply 1080p content to DirecTV and Dish [American satellite broadcasters], who suggest to their users that they offer the equivalent of BD quality on their highly compressed movie channels.

Frank Simonis says that "from the BDA perspective, we feel that this statement is not correct. The broadcasters offering this service do so at low bandwidth, 15mbps, compared to BD's 54mbps maximum. So their claim is really only on the outside, and BD offers much more".

Disney: "that's misleading, one of the things we have to do is educate. We'll help educate, perhaps with a side-by-side of a satellite transmission and BD".

Question two: Why is the high-def audio only ever in English? Why are we being treated as second class?

Language barriers mean that Warner misunderstand the question, but then say they understand and will improve the situation.

When prompted, Disney claim that mathematics and bandwidth play a part but promise more support will come.

Question three: reiteration of question two, from another person. WHEN will the high def audio dubs come?

Warner: there's no date, a lot of it is related to capacity. [When you have 50gb?!]

Disney: this interest is good, good feedback. Thank you for the enquiries.

Question four: Nobody talks about SACD and DVD Audio any more. Where's our high quality audio content on BD?

Answer: Walstra says he was involved with SACD very much, and while people loved the sound it was a lack of picture that caused the demise. As BD has high def video and audio, so is ideal for music titles. He says that a LOT more music titles are coming out soon. "Having said that, SACD isn't quite forgotten - our high end amplifiers still accomodate the interface".

Question five: There was a lot of talk in the presentation regarding how far ahead the US was in various ways, but in Europe there's a lot of frustration regarding companies announcing products in the rest of the world 6, 7, 8 months before, then bringing them to Europe for much higher prices. So what else were the BDA expecting to happen, and what was the logic behind these moves?

Answer: the studios look uneasy, so Frank Simonis answers on behalf of the BDA. He believes there is a lot of choice in Europe, but things were delayed because of the delayed PS3 launch. Second, Europe has 15 different languages, and as such it's a handicap. Things must be worked out on an individual country basis, putting Europe on a 1 year lag. It's not something the BD likes, but it's inevitable and the BDA thinks they're doing a good job. He promises good things this Fall, and says that European consumers are hungry for HD content, especially because there's not much high def television broadcasting here.

As for pricing: US prices exclude VAT and the distribution is different, so you can't make a straight A-to-B comparison. Europe is different, hence different behaviour.

Frank invites us for food and drink, ending the conference.

Latest Articles