The Future Of Blu-Ray: Live Lookup, iPod Connectivity, No More Load Times, And More

Last week, I got to attend Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray press summit and interview several of the creators behind such films as Wolverine, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Fight Club. Perhaps the highlight, however, was seeing the Fox team's presentations on the future of the Blu-Ray medium and how they're brewing up some tasty new functions and features for future releases. I'll detail it all after the break, from iPod touch and iPhone connectivity to Real-D style 3D for the home, and more in between.

Fox's secret weapon is Joe McCrossan, formerly the senior manager of research and standardisation at Panasonic and now tied to this one studio exclusively. When he stood up to speak to us and detail just what Blu-Ray breakthroughs Fox have in store, my heart rate started to steadily build. By the time we were invited to ask questions from the floor, my pulse was a blur and all I could do was beg him for more. Call me a geek all you want, but this stuff sounded simply amazing to me.

Live LookupAlready on shelves in the US and hitting international markets on October 19th is the Wolverine disc, equipped with the IMDB-supported Live Lookup facility (see the image at the head of the post). This is just a taster of what the future will bring, but it's definitely a nifty one allowing those of us with BD-Live enabled players (ie. those we've hooked up to the web) to call up the current IMDB pages of any of the actors featured in the film from within the film, and without disturbing it. And I do mean current – the player updates the data every time we fire up the disc; and I do mean any of the actors – even the smallest bit player, sorted by actor's name or character, selectable on a chapter by chapter or full film basis, or even from a series of headshots in case you can't manage a name at all.By the way, I noticed one flaw in the way the function works on the Wolverine disc. Say you look up Hugh Jackman; you will be able to see listed his up-to-date listing as an actor, a producer and as himself. Those categories will always be updated live, from the IMDB itself. However, should Jackman become a director, that tab won't appear when you access the disc and that credit will never be available. Having pointed this out, I was promised that future titles could be 'fixed' in this respect. I do hope so – it's a niggling fault in a smooth, easy to use and fun special feature.Connectivity and Functions For Your iPod, iPhone or Other Remote DeviceThis kind of multimedia experience is a fantastic prospect, I think. But suppose you don't want to disturb the other viewers of the film with pop up boxes on the screen? What if you could use a separate device to get this information, networked to the main Blu-Ray player? Here's a quote from McCrossan on just that possibility:

I think a really interesting area for Blu Ray to go in and certainly a very active area for research is how can we leverage the network connection that's on your player and the network connection that's on your device, like an iPhone, to give you new ways to interact with the content. So that could be as simple as using the iPhone or some other device as a remote control or as a keyboard all the way through the ability to use the iPhone to provide ancillary experiences so that when you're watching the content you can get some information or an experience with the content that isn't affecting the ability of other people around you who are watching the content.

I think Digital Copy could also be an interesting area where, for example, we're able to push content from the disc using the network connection of the device to your secondary device and again give the consumer better access to the content.

Say Goodbye To Boring Loading Times

So that's all pretty exciting, particularly for nerds like me. But maybe you just want your Blu-Ray player for the basic movie experience and don't care about accessing trivia tracks on your iPhone? McCrossan and Co. are also working on ironing out a couple of annoying wrinkles in the fundamentals of the format. Thankfully, we'll soon be able to wave goodbye to those long loading times:

One of the things we've actually been working on for some time now is how to improve the fundamentals of Blu-Ray. What can we do to actually improve the basic experience that a consumer gets when they put a Blu-Ray disc into the player to watch a movie? One of the things that we have been looking at is how can we reduce the load time?

We've actually been looking at a project that will do away with that altogether and so that when you put the disc in and you're watching some cards and you're watching some trailers, in the background we're doing all of the set up, we're doing all of the loading, getting the disc ready to play the movie. This will dramatically decrease the time that many consumers experience when they put the disc in.

We think that's a really important feature for the format so that's something we've been working on for quite a while and I'm actually expecting its something that could be available in the near future.

Saving To Your Player

Another basic update is the recreation of the facility we know from DVD, where the player will remember where in a movie you are if you have to remove the disc for any reason. Of course, it's going to go a little further on Blu-Ray:

One of the things that we have been looking at is how can we let the consumer go back to the disc after they've played it once and re-engage where they left off. This was one of the things that we had on DVD where if you ejected a disc many of the players offered a feature that enabled you to resume playback. Unfortunately, with Blu-Ray its much more difficult for a player to do that but on the content side, leveraging the capabilities of the format, that's actually something we can do.

And so, again, from a research standpoint we been working on some features that again I think you guys will see in the near future where when someone ejects the disc we'll make sure that all of the stuff that you've done with that disc up to that point is saved, whether that's playing a game, creating your own bookmarks even where you are in a movie, all of that will be saved so that the next time you put the disc in again very quickly you'll have a screen option exactly where you left off and the option to resume.

3D Blu-Ray

McCrossan didn't address 3D Blu-Ray himself, but we were promised during the panel that the technology is approaching standardisation right now. Some of us will have to buy new players and we'll all need new TVs but the end effect will be fully realised, 1080p-per-eye stereoscopic video, working much like the modern Real-D system does in cinemas. Apparently, Fox titles (at least) will play happily in 2D for those who are under equipped, meaning that the same disc will work for all consumers and forced double-dipping will be thankfully sidestepped. That's the way to do it.

I'm hoping to see the other studios step up to the challenge and try to outdo McCrossan and team. I want to see the format benefit from some seriously ferocious competition. Surely Sony have the inside track here and can come roaring up with some exciting prospects of their own?