The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) promises that 2012 will feature a series of Blu-ray centered virtual roundtables talking about the exciting possibilities within the format and how they plan to grow in the coming years.
Last week's roundtable featured Andy Parsons, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications for Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. and Lori MacPherson, Executive Vice President of Global Product Management for The Walt Disney Studios. Long job titles aside, the roundtable proved to be fairly informative as to the way that Blu-ray is moving, the technologies it hopes to work up to (like 4k resolution), and the expectations Disney has from the format.
Yes, they answered just about every question that was answered with the normal positive spin that most of these types of publicity meetings consist of, but if you sift through the optimistic stuff you'll find some hidden gems in the question and answer session I've posted below.
I found Andy's comments on the idea of bringing 4k resolution into the specifications of Blu-ray enlightening, giving us hope that the format will be able to adapt once higher resolution technologies become the norm. I'd also like to draw your attention to a question I asked about Disney 3D. I asked if they plan on releasing other Disney classics in 3D and Lori MacPherson responded in the affirmative saying that we should keep a look out for 'Finding Nemo' and 'Monsters Inc.' later this year and a release of 'The Little Mermaid' in 2013.
Below you'll find the entire question and answer session transcript. I'll bold the questions that I asked.
Q: Lori, while some studios are going heavy on catalog titles but just releasing old DVD masters on Blu-ray, Disney seems to be more selective and putting greater care into each, which is awesome. Does that approach reflect a Disney policy on catalog reissues on Blu-ray?
Lori MacPherson: Absolutely. We're committed to providing our consumers with the best possible blu-ray experience. We have a deep and rich catalog and our selections take into consideration numerous factors - among them, popularity with families, film lovers and collectors as well as the quality of the film elements.
Q: Are there any plans to amend the Blu-ray spec for 4K content? If so, do you know how much 4K content can be included on a BD50 disc or whether additional layers will be required.
Andy Parsons: At present, there is no activity within the BDA to bring 4K into the specifications. However, it's clear that the interest level is high for its use in home theater applications, so we are keeping a close eye on the developments in the CE market. In the meantime, I think 4K displays will do an excellent job of making HD (2K) Blu-ray titles look even better via upconversion. When the time is right, let me say that Blu-ray will be the best way to bring 4K into the home, as the data density is much higher than HDTV, and it's doubtful that even a good broadband connection can provide enough bandwidth to reliably reproduce a good picture.
Q: How important have combo packs proven for Blu-ray, especially when crossing the DVD-Blu-ray bridge for consumers?
Lori MacPherson: It's been a very successful initiative for us and extremely popular with consumers. It offers incredible value and utility and enables purchasers to future-proof their collections as well as introduce them to Blu-ray.
Q: What's Disney's"second screen"?
Lori MacPherson: Disney's Second Screen, developed here at the Studio, allows viewers to explore the story behind the film perfectly synced on a second device like an iPad or laptop, without interrupting their enjoyment of the movie. Thus far we've offered it on BAMBI, TRON LEGACY, THE LION KING and REAL STEEL.
Q: James Cameron declared that he is interested in increasing the frame rate of his movies to even 60fps to smooth out fast content viewing, what is the Blu-ray format doing to support 1080p60? and even on 3D 1080p60?
Andy Parsons: As you know, virtually every film is currently shot at 24fps, so as intriguing as it is to consider the benefits of the higher temporal resolution that could be achieved at 48 or 60fps, the industry needs to establish standards that can accommodate these higher frame rates before the BDA could consider bringing them into a worldwide publshing format like Blu-ray Disc. James Cameron is a visionary director, so it will be very interesting to see how his idea can be brought into the mainstream film world in the meantime.
Q: Why have you pulled away from the Steelbook brand for metal packaging in North America?
Lori MacPherson: We're constantly reviewing unique packaging options for our products. The Steelbook's were specific to a limited time offering of our Disney Treasures. We've also used the Steelbook's on retailer-specific offers.
Q: Many of the studios appear to be joining in on the UltraViolet digital locker. From the trailers on recent titles, it appears that Disney is working on a similar program? When is that expected to launch?
Lori MacPherson: We expect to launch Disney Studio All Access later this year.
Q: How long does Disney plan on focusing on Blu-ray as a viable revenue stream, especially with the popularity of streaming video so prevalent?
Lori MacPherson: As mentioned earlier, the consistent growth in software sales and household penetration proves that BD is on an upswing. In-home is the primary point of consumption for most and Blu-ray delivers the highest quality movie-watching experience available outside of theaters. Add to that the ultimate in functionality of Blu-ray offerings such as combo packs as well as the immersive experience of captivating extras and technologies like Second Screen and Blu-ray remains compelling and a great consumer value and proposition. It will co-exist nicely with the various digital platforms for many years to come.
Q: Piracy always finds a way to make illegal copies of protected movies. The “analog sunset” only hurts the very same early adopters that should be thanked for helping establish HD instead. Why disenfranchising millions of legacy HDTVs with analog component connections purchased at very high prices? With this experience the industry only looses the important early adopter support that will wait on the sidelines before investing in new technologies.
Andy Parsons: I understand your point, and the last thing companies like mine (Pioneer) want to do is to alienate early adopters; this market would be nowhere without them. The argument you're making was highly relevant when the analog sunset was being discussed a number of years ago, but we do believe that most of the earliest adopters (I'm one of them, by the way) have continued to adopt the latest technologies, and have replaced those older "HDMI-less" sets with newer, more up-to-date models. I realize there may be exceptions, but so far it seems that our judgment about timing has worked out fairly well. I myself moved my old rear projection Elite set into another room and have a very nice 60" Kuro display ;o) that we use to watch Blu-ray titles.
Q: Does Disney have more plans to release Disney classics (i.e. 'Aladdin' 'Little Mermaid' ect.) in 3D like they did with 'Beauty and the Beast'?
Lori MacPherson: Absolutely. Look for FINDING NEMO later this year and MONSTERS INC and THE LITTLE MERMAID in 2013.
Q: Thanks for all the 3D releases on Blu-ray! Are we going to continue to see a strong commitment to 3D on Blu-ray from Disney?
Lori MacPherson: We are committed to 3D as a platform as it brings new and exciting opportunities for programming. The consumer appetite for quality 3D content continues to grow. The top 4 films of 2011 at the worldwide box-office were all released in 3D – an industry first. Additionally, one 20-year-old film in particular was revitalized by the technology and roared into theaters at #1 for two weeks! Of course, that film is THE LION KING. Though 3D in the home is still a nascent business, as an industry, we’ve seen the release of more than 150 titles and Disney continues its leadership in capturing a 45% share of Blu-ray 3D content sales.
Q: What's the consumer feedback on in-home BD3D?
Lori MacPherson: The feedback has been extremely positive. Consumers are really enjoying the state-of-the-art immersive in-home BD3D experience and we look forward to bringing many more exciting 3D Disney titles their way.
Q: What efforts are being made to increase the use of 7.1 channels in new Blu-ray movies?
Andy Parsons: We love 7.1 audio, and would also like to see it being used more. This comes down to a decision by those who produce the titles, and we're hopeful that we'll see more of them take advantage of the full capabilities of the BD format. We also believe that full, uncompressed 5.1 and 7.1 channel audio is another of Blu-ray's strengths that set it apart from online streaming sources -- there's nothing more immersive than watching a pristine picture with amazing sound.
Q: Many of our readers wanted to know about Disney's plans (if any) they have on releasing older Disney television like 'Wonderful World of Color'?
Lori MacPherson: We continue to look at various technologies that will allow us to release this type of niche programming to consumers that want it. So stay tuned.
Q: Second Screen has been a very cool enhancement. Are there any new or upcoming developments on the Blu-ray horizon that you're particularly excited about?
Lori MacPherson: Thanks. Glad you're enjoying it. The feedback on it has been really positive. As for new developments and apps, yes, there are many. Unfortunately, it is a bit premature to discuss them. Stay tuned.
Q: Hi Lori and Andy. Disney was an early adopter of BD Live though has done less in recent times. Was BD Live 'before it's time'? Is Second Screen the better alternative?
Lori MacPherson: BD Live to us, was really about the marriage of physical and digital experiences. This is a concept that permeates much of what we're doing in this area and will continue to be a focus for us in the future.
Q: Streaming seems to be growing at an an very high rate. How does Blu-ray's growth compare and doesn't this signal a transition from packaged media to digital download or streaming?
Andy Parsons: This is a very common question, and I can certainly understand the reason for asking it. However, we don't think that one needs to exist without the other, and actually believe the two methods of watching content are very compatible. Blu-ray has significant advantages in settings where viewers want to see a title they really care about in all its HD glory, particularly when they are watching it in a group setting. Streaming makes sense for more casual viewing of the content that's available on the services that provide it -- often, it's older titles such as episodic TV shows that people are watching on computers, tablets or smaller TVs, but bandwidth variations in typical homes can make the experience frustrating when inexplicable hiccups occur. Blu-ray is the best way to watch the latest titles without any concern about reliable playback, and it's always available when you want it (unlike some programs that mysteriously disappear from streaming services). So we think that discs and streaming will coexist for many years to come because they serve different needs.
Q: What will Disney Studio All Access consist of?
Lori MacPherson: DSAA will be a Disney-branded experience that allows users to access, manage and experience their Disney movie collection and get rewarded for doing so. It will provide the utility of a storage locker in the "cloud," access through multiple platforms and devices and unique content and incentives.
Q: Can you give us an update on what all the other studios are doing UltraViolet? How many titles do you expect over what period of time?
Andy Parsons: We can't speak on behalf of individual studios, but it appears that interest in UV is growing. From a Blu-ray Disc point of view, we think it's all good, since UV is a natural extension of the ownership model that BD discs represent; that is, you buy a disc, and then you can use the same content in other environments such as tablets, smartphones and the like. I have used UV on a couple of titles, and I think it's a very good value proposition because it's simply widened the scope of how I can use the content. Along these lines, digital copy provides a similar utility, and see these "digital" extensions of the Blu-ray Disc as an illustration of why the format is the most flexible, best value available in home entertainment today.
Q: Disney has done a great job releasing their classic animated titles on Blu-ray. When will we see some of the great live action movies from the Disney vaults like Swiss Family Robinson, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller, etc. on Blu-ray?
Lori MacPherson: Many of our classic and beloved live action titles are currently being considered for the Blu-ray release treatment.
Q: How do Disney's recent 3D reissues in theaters affect your Blu-ray 3D plans? Is there a preference for the disc to precede (like Beauty and the Beast 3D) or follow (Lion King 3D) the theatrical release?
Lori MacPherson: In the future you'll likely see a 3D Blu-ray release following a 3D theatrical re-release. We were happy with the results of THE LION KING...
Q: I'm curious as to what your statistics tell you about people willing to buy physical media versus streaming it online. How is Blu-ray doing against streaming?
Andy Parsons: We don't see it as Blu-ray versus streaming. Proof of this is the ubiquity of connected BD players that support streaming services -- we just don't see them as competitors per my earlier answer. In fact, we see a connected player as the best thing going in home entertainment hardware, because it supports just about everything: CD, DVD and Blu-ray playback (including Blu-ray 3D in most players being sold today), as well as streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and so on. You can find players that support all of these for under $100 -- it's the best bargain I can think of right now. Combine that with the digital extensions from the software side, and Blu-ray really does become the centerpiece for a modern home theater system that delivers the best possible experience in the home, and the flexibility to enjoy owned content on the go.
Q: What percentage of of Disney business is BD?
Lori MacPherson: Depending upon the titles, anywhere from 20 to 60% and this grown consistently every year.
Q: Are there any new codecs on the horizon and can the BD spec be amended to include them? Also, are there any Blu-ray audio discs being released?
Andy Parsons: Once we get a format like Blu-ray finalized, we really don't want to add more codecs on a running basis because we want to make sure that all titles will work properly on the installed base of players in consumers' homes (currently in excess of 36 million households in the U.S. alone). While adding more codecs might seem like a desirable idea on the surface, it's something we really want to avoid because consumers tend to keep their players for many years. Consider that a DVD disc released in 1997 will still play on today's players -- this is what we want for Blu-ray as well. As for audio, I know that a number of excellent concert discs have been released, but I'm not aware of audio-only titles off the top of my head.
Q: I noticed that Disney has been releasing several recent theatrical titles on Blu-ray editions both with and without Digital Copy. Does this release strategy reflect what Disney has already learned about consumer interest in Digital Copy, or is that option intended to help further determine what the public wants?
Lori MacPherson: It's a result of consumer learning. Some are focused on increased utility while others simply want just the disc.
Q: Does it bother the BDA when Blu-ray is used for troubling or bad transfers which were just lazily upconverted from old DVD masters?
Andy Parsons: We always like to see content providers use the full power of the Blu-ray specifications, which allow for stunning HD pictures and sound. While there may be titles released from time to time that do not look as good as they could, I'm very excited about some of the amazing restorations that have been produced recently. These are often transferred on a frame-by-frame basis, and the studios are putting enormous effort and resources into protecting some of the most important film treasures in their archives. I think this is the bigger trend, and we are thrilled to see it happening.