As you read this, I should be attending the Blu-Con conference in Los Angeles, where I’ll be moderating a discussion panel with various home video studio and hardware manufacturing executives on the topic of Blu-ray interactivity. Coincidentally, just last week I watched the new BD-Live enabled edition of ‘Predators’ on Blu-ray. Or rather, I tried to watch it. Unfortunately, the BD-Live features caused playback problems on two out of my three Blu-ray players. This sort of thing has got to stop.
‘Predators‘ is a brand-new release from 20th Century Fox. That right there should shoot up a red flag that the disc probably won’t function without a firmware update for your Blu-ray player. The studio’s ever-changing copy protection encryption and internet connectivity protocols are notorious for causing countless compatibility problems across many Blu-ray players on the market.
My primary Blu-ray player is an OPPO BDP-83 with up-to-date firmware. Unlike many other manufacturers, OPPO is a company that works hard to fix playback problems, and issues frequent firmware updates. Nonetheless, when I put in that copy of ‘Predators’, it wouldn’t load. The player froze on a black screen, and wouldn’t even let me stop or eject the disc. I had to do a hard power down.
Knowing that many discs get stuck downloading trailers and ads from the internet before the main menu, I tried disconnecting the Ethernet cable from the back of the player. Sure enough, this got me as far as booting up to that main menu on the next try. Sadly, I couldn’t get any further than that. Hitting “Play Movie” or attempting to use the Scenes Selections menu just resulted in another black screen freeze-up. I tried this several times, and left the black screen running for 10-15 minutes just to be sure the disc wasn’t moving slowly. Still nothing.
Infuriated, I then moved to my Philips player, which hardly sees use any more. Forget about it. As soon as I put in the Blu-ray, I got an error message on screen saying that the disc wasn’t compatible, and I should check with the manufacturer to see if any firmware updates were available. Unsurprisingly, Philips didn’t have any recent firmware files to offer.
Only the PS3 was able to power through and play the movie. At least something could. This is where it pays to have a lot of redundant hardware in my home theater.
Researching online, I found that other OPPO owners had experienced the same problem. It was recommended to go into the player’s Setup menu to disable BD-Live (rather than just unplugging the Ethernet cable) and clear Persistent Storage. I started with just the latter. Fortunately, that seemed to do the trick. Clearing the BDP-83’s Persistent Storage allowed the disc to load all the way through the menu and start playback, even with BD-Live still enabled.
To give it a final test, I then attempted to actually use the BD-Live features on the disc – specifically, the “Live Lookup” function that provides updated cast info and trivia. Did you honestly think that would work? Of course not. Selecting the option from the menu brings up an error message saying: “A network connection has been detected. To access this feature, please stop this disc and restart playback of the disc.”
Guess what happened when I stopped and started playback as instructed. That’s right, nothing. It just brought me to the same error message again. The feature cannot be activated.
Blu-ray is currently in its fourth year on the market, and still barely commands approximately 10-15% market share compared to DVD. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I obviously wouldn’t try to blame BD-Live or interactive features. However, problems like this certainly don’t help matters. Over the last 13 years, consumers have come to expect the ease-of-use and convenience of DVD when watching a movie. When you put in a disc, it should play right away. When you select a bonus feature from the menu, you should be able to watch that bonus feature right then. When was the last time you had to update the firmware on a DVD player to get a disc to play or a feature to work? Ever? In many respects, Blu-ray is just too much of a pain in the neck for average viewers. They don’t want to deal with the hassles.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe there will be any representation from Fox on my panel at Blu-Con this year. Nonetheless, problems like these are not exclusive to that studio. Everyone in the industry, on both the studio and the hardware sides, needs to be working harder to make Blu-ray a more fluid and convenient experience for viewers.