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Blu-Con 20 Considers Future of Format

By Mel Lambert. Los Angeles (November 10, 2009)--With $100 Blu-ray Disc players on the immediate consumer horizon, it was timely that 450-plus industry professionals from the motion picture, consumer electronics, IT and video game industries gathered in early November to focus on the future for this high-resolution video release format.

Martin Scorsese, via satellite from
DGA New York, with moderator
Grover Crisp, SVP, Asset Management,
Film Restoration & Digital Mastering,
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Photo: Mel Lambert
By Mel Lambert |

Los Angeles (November 10, 2009)–With $100 Blu-ray Disc players on the immediate consumer horizon, it was timely that 450-plus industry professionals from the motion picture, consumer electronics, IT and video game industries gathered in early November to focus on the future for this high-resolution video release format.

Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in early November, Blu-Con 2.0 took as its theme “Blu-ray Means Business,” including additional opportunities for recording studios and post facilities involved in the repurposing of legacy material with multichannel mixes and fully compatible PCM sound elements. The conference was presented by Hollywood-based DEG/The Digital Entertainment Group, a non-profit corporation that advocates film studios and production companies.

Keynote speaker Martin Scorsese offered a glowing endorsement for the Blu-ray format. Speaking from the DGA office in New York, the auteur director hailed Blu-ray as being “as close as you’re going to get to replicating the theatrical experience at home.” Referring specifically to his 2008 Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light, Scorsese was particularly enthusiastic about the multichannel capabilities of BD release because “it would be transferred just that way to the home,” with 7.1-channel soundtracks in discrete and lossless DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD formats.

Scorsese also cited the potential of revitalizing mono and stereo soundtracks now that Blu-ray offers enhanced multichannel possibilities. “Dialogue can often get hidden by music in a mono mix,” he conceded. “The original release of Taxi Driver, for example, wasn’t in stereo – the format was too new back then … and we mixed the mono soundtrack in five days! But we had recorded the music score in stereo. So, when we went back for the [planned] Blu-ray release, we rebalanced the music around the dialog to create a more dynamic soundtrack. Is it okay to alter original soundtracks in this way? Sure, if we honor the film’s original intentions; we can always take advantage of new possibilities,” he reasoned.

High-resolution multichannel sound “enhances the emotional experience of a film,” Scorsese continued. “Home viewers are demanding the best quality sound and picture from Blu-ray. Studios need to raise the level of technical presentations,” he considered, citing the recent 4k restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove with remixed TrueHD 5.1 and original mono soundtracks. “As a filmmaker and a film lover, Blu-ray is going to extend the life of film.” The director revealed that, to date, his favorite Blu-ray release is John Ford’s The Searchers.

According to Mike Vitelli, EVP of Best Buy’s consumer operations group, Blu-ray players are destined to be the fastest-growing consumer electronics product this year, with predicted sales of 10 million units, including 4.1 million PS3 consoles, rising to 18.6 million units expected to be sold in 2010, many with Internet video capability. A number of vendors, including Best Buy, are aggressively merchandising both Blu-ray players and software titles.

But not all participants at Blu-Con 2.0 foresaw such a rosy future for packaged Blu-ray Discs; several predicted a gradual fall in physical sales–more so for DVD tiles than Blu-ray–with a rapid migration to downloadable and video-on-demand opportunities. “We foresee a decline in physical DVD and Blu-ray,” offered Tom Adams from Adams Media, as part of panel entitled Understanding the Blu-ray Consumer – The Latest Findings. “VOD from PayTV operators and internet rentals/downloads are shoring up studio film revenues, but electronic sales by cable and Telco systems could push growth rates even higher,” Adams argued.

Other potential growth areas, some of which offer additional revenue opportunities for recording and post facilities, include BD-Live which, via an internet connection, allows consumers to download additional content for Blu-ray movies, and Blu-ray-3D, which will enable 3D movies to be offered to the home-viewer market. Speaking on a panel entitled BD-Live Forum: New Applications and Social Networks, Ty Roberts, chief technology officer with Gracenote, a Sony subsidiary specializing in embedded technology, enriched content, and data services, offered that possible uses include the delivery of soundtrack elements that the users could remix to create alternate soundtracks. “Or maybe to replace the dialog with [locally generated] material,” he suggested.

In a nearby parking lot, Panasonic held regular demonstrations of its Full HD 3D Home Theater System, which utilizes Plasma technology and a prototype Blu-ray player to deliver 1080p 3D images. “HD-3D represents the next stage of audio-visual technologies for the home beyond high-definition,” offered Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, Panasonic’s chief technology officer. The truck-based demo included 3D extracts from Fox Film/Lightstorm Entertainment’s promotion of director James Cameron’s Avatar, the industry’s first live-action 3D movie scheduled for release on December 18. In addition to a Blu-ray release of Avatar in 2010/11, it is expected that Sony Pictures will be offering a 3D version of Michael Jackson’s This Is It some time next year.

“It is clear that home entertainment’s stability is fueled by Blu-ray’s popularity,” concluded Bob Chapek, chairman of DEG and president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. “Blu-ray’s performance can be attributed to its unsurpassed picture and sound quality. Given that it is a revolutionary platform, we remain confident that demand for Blu-ray will continue to grow.”

According to figures compiled by Swicker & Associates on behalf of the DEG, nearly 20 million Blu-ray discs shipped to retail in the first quarter of the year, a growth of 108 percent over the same period last year. Sales of all Blu-ray compatible devices, including set-top players, PC drives and PlayStation 3 consoles are now in more than 10.5 million US homes. Some 55 million HDTVs have been sold to consumers, with a US household penetration of close to approximately 42 million.