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Friday, November 06, 2009
Industry Talks Blu-ray at Blu-Con 2.0

The Blu-Con 2.0 was held on Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton, California. The conference is dedicated to the topic of Blu-ray and its potential future within the movie, hardware, software, gaming and retail industries.

Speakers at the event included representatives from the home video divisions of all the major studios; consumer electronics manufacturers involved with the Blu-ray format, Blu-ray authoring, mastering and replication engineers as well as industry analysts.

Highlights of the conference include the belief that holiday prices of earlier generations of Blu-ray players (profile 1.1) will be around $100, with the most advanced profile 2.0 players to cost $50 more on average. In order to see BD sales breaking out, the $100 price should become the mass market price, according to analysts. This is expected to be the price tag of the BD players in 2010.

Consumer awareness of Blu-ray remains a key area the industry needs to work on. Best Buy announced the results of its own research, showing that only 32% of its consumers are familiar with Blu-ray this year, up from 29% last year and 19% in 2007.

On the bright side, 60% of consumers who are familiar with Blu-ray have at least some intent to purchase the format in the next year, especially if the price is below $150.

Best Buy is expecting 95% U.S. household penetration of HDTV?s by 2013. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is more conservative predicting the 60% penetration by the end of this year.

Regarding hardware sales, Blu-ray player sales are growing faster than any other electronics category. Compared to the corresponding period when the DVD format appeared to the market, the Blu-ray player sales growth is matching or exceeding DVD.

Adams Media Research claims that that Blu-ray will eventually take over from DVD as the playback format of choice for home video, but Blu-ray sales will probably not completely offset DVD sales declines.

Best Buy got into figures and expects as many as 10 million BD players to be in U.S. homes by the end of this year, and predictions are that 18.6 million will sell by the end of 2010. These figures include sales of Sony's PS3 game console.

Speaking of PS3, CEA said that stand-alone BD players surpassed PS3 sales for the first time in 2009. Sony says that 9 million PS3s will be in consumer homes in the U.S. by the end of the year - 27 million worldwide. Within the first 3 weeks of the availability of the more affordable Sony PS3 last month, 1 million PS3 units were sold globally. Among the PS3 owners, 90% of them use it to watch Blu-ray movies and play, and 55% prefer Blu-ray to DVD, Sony added. Sony also talked about the PS3 streaming deal with Netflix that was announced last week and will start this month.

Gaming industry market research shows that more Xbox 360 gamers are starting to purchase PS3s too at the new lower price. This could have pushed Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to hint that a Blu-ray add-on drive for the Xbox 360 is on the way, last week. Rumors also indicate that a Blu-ray-enabled Nintendo Wii is coming next year.

Regarding the BD software sales, they are reportedly up 80% for the first three quarters of 2009 over the same timeframe last year. For the biggest blockbuster titles, as much as 30% of all disc sales have been on Blu-ray. Best Buy believes that software pricing and perception of value is going to be key in driving Blu-ray into the mass market.

Studios also see the Blu-ray, VOD (Video on Demand) and EST (electronic transactions) to complement to each other in the near future. Digital copies of video material have been already released by some studios, allowing users to store purchased digital movie files to devices and access this material later though other consumer media devices. Another trend is the idea of renting a digital file version from a retail kiosk but technical and security-based hurdles have to be overcome.

There was also talking about the "Managed Copy" feature as well as for the 3D specifications for the Blu-ray disc format.

Managed copy is expected to launch fully in the next few months, according to the Blu-ray Disc Association. The managed copy requirement goes into effect Dec. 4, as part of the final licensing agreement for AACS, the copy protection used on Blu-ray discs.

From December, studios will be required to offer consumers a backup copy of every Blu-ray disc they buy. However, no Blu-ray players in the market yet have the capability to make the backups. This means that PC drives will likely to be the first products to support managed copy.

A disc ready for managed copy will essentially include a link on it directing the Blu-ray player to an authentication server. Once a users chooses the option to make a copy, the Blu-ray player connects online to an authorization server. Discs are serialized, and the authentication server will determine if a copy is allowed.

Managed copies will be able to be burned to recordable Blu-ray or DVD discs, as a download to a Windows Media DRM-compatible portable player or hard drive, on a memory stick, SD card or as a bound copy, such as a digital copy file on the disc, though AACS-LA can approve other methods going forward.

The final specifications for the 3D Blu-ray (3D-BD) will be announced by December, the BDA added. What is interesting here is the fact that the 3D Blu-ray specs will be display format agnostic, meaning that it won?t make any difference whether the display is Plasma or LCD, or it needs to use active or passive glasses. The specifications will require that all 3D capable displays will use the same signal. By doing this, the BDA makes sure that there will be not and "3D Blu-ray" war among the companies with different approaches in the implementation of the 3D into their panels (Panasonic, Sony, Sharp etc.). This also means that if you buy a 3D-BD player, it will work will all properly marked 3D display technologies.

In addition, all 3D-BD discs will be backwards compatible with current Blu-ray players, so the disc will include both a 3D version in the new spec and a standard 2D version for current players.

The 3D-BD spec will also require full 1080p signal delivery for each eye.

The first 3D panels are expected to be commercialized by the mid of 2010. PS3 remains a candidate supporter of the 3D Blu-ray format through a firmware upgrade.

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