Editor's Note: As part of his twice-monthly column here at High-Def Digest, from time to time Josh Zyber answers frequently asked questions related to High-Definition and both Blu-ray on HD DVD. This week: With the first Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player hitting store shelves, Josh breaks down what all this talk of "Profiles" really means for consumers.
By Joshua Zyber
It's been a year and a half since the first Blu-ray player was introduced to market, and in that time the Blu-ray format has certainly proven capable of delivering exceptional picture and sound quality, as well as traditional bonus features such as audio commentaries, video featurettes, and documentaries. Most discs utilize pop-up menus accessible during a movie, and some titles offer a measure of interactivity in terms of branched-off video content or software-based games and the like. However, while the Blu-ray format spec also makes provisions for advanced interactive features including Picture-in-Picture video or web-enabled content, support for these functions was not initially mandatory in the player hardware. Instead, Blu-ray players are divided into three major categories called "Profiles," a term that's taken on added relevance recently due to the release of the first Profile 1.1 compliant player, the Panasonic DMP-BD30.
Blu-ray Profiles break down as follows:
- The basic Profile 1.0 (also known as the Grace Period Profile) available on all Blu-ray models released before November 1st, 2007 includes neither a secondary video decoder nor an internet connection.
- Profile 1.1 (also called the Final Standard Profile or "Bonus View") adds decoders for secondary PiP video and audio, plus 256 MB of local storage capability.
- Finally, Profile 2.0 (or "BD-Live") includes those secondary video and audio decoders, a larger 1 GB of local storage capability, and an internet connection.
As can be gleaned from its description as the "Final Standard Profile," 1.1 is the new mandatory base requirement for all Blu-ray player models released after the November 1st cutoff date (older models can continue to be sold as-is). Profile 2.0 is an optional enhancement and is unlikely to become a mandatory standard. At present, there has been no announced timeframe for the availability of Profile 2.0 hardware.
Almost all Blu-ray players on the market have gone through a firmware update or two since their release, and some owners may wonder whether their existing units can be upgraded to a higher Profile. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case for any standalone disc players, which lack the decoding chips in their hardware needed for PiP or the internet ports needed for BD-Live. A simple firmware update won't cover it. On the other hand, there has been speculation that Sony's Playstation 3 console with its powerful Cell processor and internet connection (used currently for video games) may be updatable in this regard. Hopefully that's the case, but at the time of this writing we're still awaiting confirmation from Sony.
[Update: Sony officially updated the Playstation 3 to Profile 1.1 compliance on 12/17/07.]
The first discs to incorporate Bonus View/Profile 1.1 features are currently scheduled to hit store shelves in January 2008. To date, announced titles include 'Resident Evil: Extinction' from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 'Sunshine' from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and 'War' from Lionsgate Entertainment. All Profile 1.1 discs should function normally in existing Grace Period Profile players as far as movie playback and traditional bonus features go (meaning that older players will not necessarily become "obsolete"), but the new 1.1 enhanced features will not be accessible without a new player.
It should go without saying that each potential buyer's own personal priorities will significantly affect their feelings toward all this Profile hoopla. Previous Blu-ray models will continue to play all discs and traditional bonus features, so if you don't find interactive or web-enabled content critical to your movie enjoyment, these features may not necessarily seem all that important. Personally, I find the whole notion of separate hardware Profiles needlessly confusing and not in the best interest of consumers. Whether intentionally designed that way or not, it leaves the impression that the manufacturers are trying to force existing Blu-ray early adopters into upgrading their equipment only a year into the format's life cycle, just to gain some new features that should have been included from the beginning.
Nevertheless, that's the way it worked out. With the release of the Panasonic DMP-BD30 player, Blu-ray Profile 1.1 hardware is now available, and enhanced disc software will be coming soon. We here at High-Def Digest love to play with new technology, and look forward to covering the latest developments in interactive movie content.
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