Why Be Blu? It?s All High-Def

So here’s the skinny – we get this email from the public re-lations department for the Blu-ray Association asking if we’d be willing to come down to LA and spend 2 days in intense meetings with BD reps. Now the most recent info says that BD is outselling HD DVD 2 to 1 and there’s a ton of new titles coming out for the holidays – blockbusters that can meet or exceed the recent buzz of the Transformers HD DVD. So, since we’re curious by nature, we say yes and the next thing we know we’re inside a lounge that’s filled with Plasma screens running Blu-ray movies like Spider-Man 3, 300 and Chicken Little.

This is followed almost immediately by our being bused (along with a gaggle of other journalists) over to Twentieth Century Fox. Once there, we’re herded into a screening room and treated to scenes from their upcoming BD titles (looking forward to AVP: Alien Vs. Predator next year) – one being Live Free or Die Hard having a BD-Java game for trying to grab some hackers. Fox’s head of engineering points out that the high bit-rate insures a splendid, high-resolution image (he’s right), and that for those whose home theater has D-Box capabilities (which involves having the seat you’re in jump around like a bucking bronco), the technology is right there inside the disc.

But Sony’s take at their laid-back cocktail party later that evening is also illuminating – they’re not trying to “push” the envelope with interactivity on BD; this being illustrated by the conservative approach of the splash screens and accessing of the extras as found on Spider-Man 3. That’s not to say that Sony doesn’t know innovation, but certainly we can see their point of making sure the disc provides the most important thing to the viewer first – insuring that the picture is as good as possible. But since Walt Disney Studios has promised we could spend some time the next morning talking with Brad Bird (the director of the Incredibles and now Ratatouille), so much for partying all night.

This explains why we’re too sober to miss how uncomfortable this hard fold-up chair is that we’re seated on, as we wait for Bird in a decidedly drab hotel conference room. But we perk up once he arrives to discuss Pixar, himself and Ratatouille – agreeing that animators should be considered as actors, not technicians, because of all they put into creating an entire “reality.” We also give a nod that motion-capture can be a great tool (consider Snow White for that matter or even the most recent Beowolf), but that by itself it shouldn’t be considered animation. And from the many questions we glean how his perfectionism extends past the movie’s release: Bird might not have the time for fixing every little mistake or aberration (which most movie-goers don’t catch anyway), but he makes certain that such things are taken care of before the film goes out to consumers onto a shiny disc. It’s obvious why he finds high-definition (Blu-ray in this case) so appealing: wouldn’t you want your work as a filmmaker to be pristine and for the image to look as it was intended to in the home? And which doesn’t compromise on the quality of picture or sound? Or so at least we are told – you be the judge.

But as enjoyable as this is, there’s still one more stop and that’s over to Panasonic Hollywood Labs – a video research lab that looks into the technologies that studios need for converting their wares to digital form. And, no surprise, the company played a role in the BD’s encoding development.

They just happen to have their new DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player on display. Which is a honey of a machine even if you don’t care about the SD slot for playing high-def pho-tos and video or that the Final Standard Profile adds new features like Picture-in-Picture – advanced technology boosting the level of video processing far above their last model (and others presently out too). Watching Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest on a huge screen in their theater, you can see the fireworks in the opening montage for Disney and the rain that begins the film both having a greater density and a more lifelike appearance as compared to Panasonic’s earlier BD player. We know that tech constantly improves but considering that the BD30 retails for under $500 USD, can we have one please? In-stead we’re given a bag with a press release and a pen.

Panasonic DMP-BD30 Slide Shot
Panasonic DMP-BD30 Slide Shot

Now some are going to stick around until it’s time for a party hosted by Disney in honor of Ratatouille and which purports to have chefs cooking food till you burst. But we’re heading back home so we can go watch some of these BD movies we just got.

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