Problems Like This Aren’t Doing Blu-ray Any Favors

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.


  1. This is one of the many reasons I am glad I have a PS3. I did have a hard crash last night when I put in Let The Right One In, but a hard reboot fixed the issue. Is the problem really with the way discs are authored, or with hardware? Either way, this has got to stop. The disc should at least PLAY even if you never did a firmware update. I can understand if certain interactive special features don’t work, but discs that have simply the movie, a few audio and subtitle tracks, and some non-interactive special features should play, out of the package, without the need to update firmware or enable / disable BD-Live

  2. That’s the second Fox title I’ve heard that had issues like that. I couldn’t play “Max Payne” on my PC because it kept saying that it had firmware issues with my BD-ROM drive. Apparently it had the same problem with a lot of standalone players.

  3. Anthony S.

    Gee, what a surprise. Another rant from the hater of all-things-extra-on-a-BD, Zyber. Unlike your pricey Oppo, I own a simple Internet connected Sony BDP-S350 and plenty of BD-Java and BD-Live enabled discs. I have viewed countless numbers of BDs and could count on one hand the number of times I experienced hang-ups and freezes. Regardless, in a addition to the high rez video and audio, it’s the “bells and whistles” that add value and enjoyment to many, though not all, BD-Live enabled discs. Don’t hate the technology because studios have cut corners and relegated BD-Live to their marketing departments. While it seems to be sputtering in a bad economy, I’m sure there’s better things to come for BD-Live.

  4. the ps3 wins again. i know the oppo unit is probably marginally better for video / audio quality, but it always seems that the best “all around” bluray player winds up being the ps3.

  5. Adam W.

    Maybe you can tell them we really don’t care about “interactivity”, which to this point has been nothing but a bloated mess of “who cares”. I keep hearing about possibilities, but the only things I see them pushing it for are force-feeding us new movie trailers years after we bought discs and other “benefits” like this. The only good feature really has been on the “LOST” discs – “Lost University”, but truthfully that didn’t *need* online really and could have been included as regular content.

    They just want us online to be able to have a way into our players, and sell us more stuff.

  6. Bumbuliuz

    I have a EU PS3 60GB with backward compat for ps2 games. I bought the new Rocky Horror 35th anniversary version and it wont work because of BD-Live unless I disable the internet connection on my ps3. If it´s connected I can barely sometimes see just the movie and not the extras.

  7. Tim

    Let’s say I really hate my father and I give him “Predators” for Christmas. Do you think he’s going to know how to update the firmware? Do you think he has wireless internet hooked up to his Blu-ray player? He probably just wants to watch the movie. If he really likes it (in this case, very unlikely), he’ll watch some special features. The point is that he won’t be able to watch the movie and I’ll have to act as technical support all in the name of copyright protection.

    When are the studios going to give up on this copyright protection scheme? Predators has been available online in HD for probably a month or so. Do these protection schemes seem to be working Fox and others? If so, you wouldn’t see the movies online. Are these measures punishing your law-abiding consumers? Yes. It’s time to admit that they lost and challenge the pirates in another way. How about making your movies more user-friendly and cheaper? If I can buy a movie for $10, I’ll probably do that instead of downloading it.

    And please, let’s stop this “PS3 is great, I’ve never had any problems” crap. This article isn’t about what player is better; it’s about the problems associated with copyright protection and, to a lesser extent it would appear, BD-Live. Instead of professing your love for an inanimate object, try adding something useful to the discussion.

  8. Azrael

    I bought the Alien Anthology Set and used it to test the LG Bd 560 before I give the player to my parents this christmas. It’s bad enough that I can’t just wrap it, but they wouldn’t be able to do all the firmware upgrades themselves and I’m not spending the holidays doing tech support.

    Funny thing: Turns out the player can’t handle seamless branching and starts to skip chapters or parts of them.
    I mean we’re talking about a self described “4th generation blu-ray player” that can’t handle playing a movie from a major studio.

    My wife got so frustrated she asked me why I didn’t just download the movies, since those files play without a hitch…

  9. Lorie

    I have a similar issue as some of the earlier posts. My parents would like a Blu-ray player for Christmas this year to go with their new HD TV, however I know what that will mean for me. There’s no way they will be able to handle firmware upgrades or understand issues with their internet connectivity. This means a tech support role for me and I just don’t know if I want to open that can of worms.

  10. besch64

    I just want HD movies. I don’t want to connect to the internet to see baby pictures of the actors or whatever bogus content they think people want these days.

  11. Seriously, this is so embarrasing when I go rent a movie with my gf and we sit down to watch it and it takes forever to get anywhere. The fix always seems to be unplugging my ethernet connection. I am under 30, tech-savvy, and have never found one single BD-live feature to be even remotely entertaining.

    • EM

      “Seriously, this is so embarrasing when I go rent a movie with my gf and we sit down to watch it and it takes forever to get anywhere.”

      Um, try playing a Barry White CD instead?

  12. Vortex

    2 years ago, I listed all the possible problems in the article at a Blu-ray forum, and back then most responses were such issues will not be happening now. Sometimes I wonder how consumers can be so naive.

    Once a Blu-ray player manufacturer stops supporting the player mode, there is no guarantee that you will get updated firmware that is compatible with newer movies. I like to see how many “no name” brand Blu-ray players will remain compatible after a while.

    As for BD Live, out of all the BD Live enabled movies, how many really provide real contents that we want to see? For movie studios, the real use of BD Live is for the movie to download more advertising trash. It went from the user having to select to download to auto download when the player starts the movie.

    For standalone Blu-ray players, it’s easier to leave the player unplugged from the internet.

    For PS3, even Sony does provide an option to disable BD Live, disabling it in the XMB will prompt you about BD Live everytime you start a movie. If you choose to allow the movie to connect to BD Live once after being prompted, BD Live becomes enabled for every movie unless you go to XMB settings to disable it again. It’s clear that Sony prefers you to enable BD Live.

  13. EM

    I think my only Hlu-ray player, an older model, is not BD-Live–capable—heh, I don’t even know! I’ve never felt compelled to have a Blu-ray player hooked up to the Internet. But now I’m actually happy that I don’t. With luck, I’ll keep on avoiding the Blu screen of death…

  14. I was thinking about getting my parents a Bluray player for Christmas, or helping them decide which one to buy.

    This firmware thing sounds like a nightmare, Especially when I know they will rent many Bluray movies from redbox. That means I will have to run next door and update their firmware at 8pm also.

    By the way, I have a PS3 and have had 0 issues.
    I am anoyed that the Disney Blurays used to have really cool BD-Live features, and now it is just a place to watch HD trailers of movies already on BD or coming to theaters….. And do they really think I want to DOWNLOAD the Tinkerbell anti-piracy ad?