Sony Pictures to make first Blu-ray movies available today

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

See the Blu-ray Disc player slide show here...

Burbank (CA) - With Toshiba having launched its HD-A1 and HD-XA1 HD DVD videodisc players in April, Samsung is preparing to be the first brand to formally launch a competitive Blu-ray Disc player in North America, with its BD-P1000 set to premiere on Sunday. Despite that firm date, customers nationwide are already reporting having purchased BD-P1000s from Best Buy store shelves - just sitting there nonchalantly like any other DVD player, as if shelf stockers didn't know the difference. But today, those early adopters will finally be able to play real BD media - not just upconverted SD media - as Sony Pictures releases the first batch of BD movies today.

Video outlets today should already have received, and will likely have displays ready for, 50 First Dates (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore), Hitch (Will Smith), House of Flying Daggers, the original Terminator, the sci-fi "new cult classic" The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis), Underworld Evolution, and XXX (the film, not the rating). One title, A Knight's Tale, originally scheduled for release today, is being pushed back to 25 July. The high-energy motorcycle violence film Ultraviolet joins the line-up next Tuesday. Lion's Gate Home Entertainment is due to follow up next Tuesday with the BD releases of 2006 Best Picture Crash, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the horror flick Saw, Lord of War (Nicholas Cage), and the Marvel Comics vigilante piece The Punisher.

Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray disc player

The Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player, due for North American release this Sunday. (Courtesy Samsung)

Initial reviews for Samsung's BD-P1000 player are mixed, although consumers have yet to be able to test it with Blu-ray movies. Among them is Dan Bradley, who reports for DenGuru that, in comparisons of DVD upconversion capabilities between the BD-P1000 and the HD-A1, there were only negligible differences in picture quality, and low artifact count for both models. But Bradley also noticed what could be a glaring deficiency: The BD-P1000 will not be capable of playing dual-layer, 50 GB Blu-ray Discs, at least not without a firmware upgrade - and it isn't clear that such an upgrade will be in the works.

HD DVD dual-layer capacity is available now at 30 GB; Blu-ray's dual-layer capacity is supposed to be 50 GB. But some studios are saying that 25 GB is plenty of space for even high-definition movies, which is causing videophiles to raise some eyebrows. Having been promised earth-shattering interactive content on the BD-J (Blu-ray Java) interactive layer, many early adopters are forcing themselves to wait to see which format emerges as the interactive leader. HD DVD proponents have noticed - and have even forwarded to TG Daily - repeated job postings from studios still searching for programmers willing to take on BD-J, some of which actually state outright that BD-J development tools are in "an immature state."

One frequent poster to the AV Science Forum reported returning his BD-P1000 for a refund, citing its poor performance in playing audio CDs compared to Toshiba's HD DVD player - which sells for $500 less. He liked the Samsung's faster boot-up time compared to the Toshiba (10 seconds compared with about 30, by his count), but also commented he would be willing to wait for LG Electronics to release its promised dual-format high-definition player, a release date for which has not been set.

Sony's own premiere BD player, which was originally scheduled for release about this time, was pushed back to "on or about August 15," according to the most recent posting on Sony's retail Web site. Pioneer's BDP-SP1 is also expected around that time, as spokespersons for that company have been quoted as saying they would prefer to wait until some of the pending technical issues between manufacturers and studios are sorted out.

Also among those issues, along with the development of the interactive layer, is the matter of HDMI 1.3 compatibility. A breakthrough was reportedly reached last week in the finalization of that standard, which had to be amended to increase the bandwidth, in order for it to support next-generation audio standards like Dolby HD and DTS-HD. The HDMI organization has yet to make this news official, but assuming it's true, it comes just in time for Sony and Pioneer to make upgraded firmware for BD players to be released in August. It may also give early adopters good reason to wait just one more month, since it does not appear firmware upgrades will be on the horizon for Samsung's player, to be released this weekend.

But another forum member speculated that Sony and other Blu-ray supporters may be going ahead with the release of technology that supports an incomplete standard - especially with only single-layer discs - as a means of retarding the growth of its competitor, HD DVD, until Sony can finally make available its PlayStation 3 console with Blu-ray built in. PS3 is perceived throughout the industry as the heavy hitter in the Blu-ray camp.

Gone, but not quite forgotten, amid all this discussion is AACS copy protection. A final specification for how BD and HD DVD players will connect to the Internet, and negotiate with studios on behalf of users for the right to make managed copies, may be as far from completion as it was at the beginning of this year. But early adopters don't seem to be missing this feature much, and certainly aren't holding out for it, which may be contributing to a waning incentive among manufacturers to go through with finishing it. The very real possibility is emerging that AACS won't get completed at all, with few, if anyone, shedding many tears over it.

See the Blu-ray Disc player slide show here...