Part of the HDBeat podcast team recently had the chance to chat with Blu-ray Disc Association's spokesman and Pioneer Electronics' Senior VP, Andy Parsons. Let us tell you, it was a rather large eye-opener into the Blu-ray camp and this is a must read for every HD DVD fanboy. Many of us had unanswered questions concerning BD+, managed copy, and dual-format players and Andy answered them all. What follows after the jump isn't the full conversation but it's close. We also recorded the interview and if listening is more your speed, it's available as a special edition of the HDBeat Podcast.

Andy starts out explaining that he is a Blu-ray cheerleader and that HD DVD has had a good release and has been successful promoting HD DVD, but they are still by themselves in regards to hardware which is a big challenge for them. Blu-ray on the other hand already has Samsung, as well as a number of other manufactures and the PS3. This will create a content vacuum which will motivate the studios to release Blu-ray movies. It is hard to image how HD DVD will complete, unless they can convince other CE companies or studios to switch sides. Up until now no other studio have switched sides while a few have announced plans for Blu-ray. "What content can I buy in the format, what movies, is a powerful motivator, which is more important than CODECs or cropping". He understands that comparisons are fun, but they will not resonate with the mass majority of consumers, vs titles available. He can't see how they can make it work.

Matt:
How will the PS3 effect the war, is it a Trojan horse.
Andy:
It is first and foremost a game platform, but it's also a BD player and you are naturally going to look for games first, potentially you are going to be looking for movies as well. Sony has done an interesting thing by making this device a great game console as well as full featured Blu-ray player. Not sure how many will take advantage of this, but my kids use the PS2 more as a DVD player than a game console right now. It's an interesting question since obviously Pioneer is making an elite player. Were obviously targeting the HT market and these are a cross over market.

Matt:
Blu-ray has been out for a little while, how is the buzz going?
Andy:
It is so so early in this particular adoption cycle, Matt I know you feel that HD DVD has a significant advantage on the market for a few months and they have managed to enjoy quite a bit of attention because of that. But I think that at some point that even thought we are getting off the ground a bit more slowly than they did, at some point we are going to pick up a good solid head of steam. I guess I am prediction that this will be at somewhere near the end of this calendar year. By that time we will have 5 CE models, the PS3 and hopefully a lot more titles available, to where the early days of this format disagreement will fade into memory.

Ben:
One way that Blu-ray has made more progress than HD DVD is the shear number of titles, I mean in just over 4-5 weeks they are over 20 titles which took HD DVD 60 days to get to that number.
Andy:
They are probably going to have quite a bit more hitting the market as well, as long as you have 3 studios in each camp releasing titles for the time being you are going to see relatively equivalent as far as content. But I do believe that when you get FOX, Disney, MGM and all the various studio making a contributed to this, that this is where mathematically it begins to be pretty evident that the number of discs that will be coming out will should quickly surpass what only 3 studios could be putting out. By all means Warner Brothers is an huge studio with an enormous library but they are just one studio.

Ben:
They also released their first Blu-ray titles today.
Andy:
Thats right, coincidentally today is the very first street date for their first titles. Two of which I've see look quite nice.

Ben:
One of which is an exclusive Blu-ray titles, yet to be released on HD DVD.
Andy:
It's an interesting thing. One of the points we wanted to make today, is that we understand what you guys are doing as far as looking as what is comparable today and comparing apples to apples for the first time is irresistible and exciting when you are looking at the same titles on both formats. I did see what I thought to be some procedural errors on the part of Hi-Def digest, they were making some assumptions about hardware that were being attributed to the format. Obviously you have a player with it's own decoder in it and you have some assumptions about what CODECs were being used, which I don't think were necessarily fully accurate. But I think once again that's irresistible, it's understandable, but it's missing the long term view, which is when this thing really gets going, this big bolder rolling down hill, it's kinda hard for me to imagine how a consumer could look at both formats and say, you know that one that only has 3 studios and one or two CE companies supporting it, is the one for me. I understand the argument about the low price, but as you pointed out, Matt they are loosing a lot of money on that and they will not make up for it in titles because they won't have enough titles.

Ben:
You mentioned CODECs, how do you or the BDA feel about MPEG2 vs VC1? To this date most Blu-ray movies are MPEG2, which some would argue is inferior.
Andy:
I think that CODECs are all capable of delivering really good results. I think that it comes down to efficiency and I think one of the reason to use VC1 or AVC is to make better use of your space. Not because one is necessarily because one is better to achieve better picture quality. When you are looking at MPEG2 at high bit rates it can look indistinguishable from the source.

Ben:
One of reasons Blu-ray supporters choose Blu-ray early on was capacity, which means choice for either picture quality or features and one of the disappointments out of the gate is that initial titles are single layer, is that a big deal and how long do you think it will be before we start to see dual layer titles?
Andy:
Sony has announced two titles already that are dual layer, but have yet to ship and that many of us are eager to see happen sooner than later, so that we can really fulfill our long made promise that Blu-ray has the capacity advantage. I think that if I am not mistaken that most HD DVD titles are dual layer. Most current HD DVD titles are using about ~28GB and they have already gotten close to the limits of what their technology can deliver on a single disc. Blu-ray on our first iteration, our first titles that we are releasing at 25GB which is kinda like step one, step two is when we get the dual layer titles out there and that manufacture process becomes better known and more prevalent, we can now do far more on a single disc than we can on a single layer disc.

Ben:
They are already comparable.
Andy:
And yet those guys right now are already close to what they can deliver. Which is different from a year ago when they were saying 15GB was enough. As we have always been saying, you can never have too much capacity and when 50GB become more common place we think it is really going to help us to add more value to the content, more interactivity, more bonus features. If you really want to use super high bit rates on MP2, you can run up to 40Mb/s, if someone wants to because the disc spins at more than 1.5 the speed of a normal player.

Ben:
Speaking of interactivity, that is another issue that people like to bring up. How would you compare the Blu-ray BDJ to iHD.
Andy:
I might surprise you, I think they are quite similar. They are both capable of doing what most titles companies would like to do. The demos I have seem have show similar capabilities. Both much more compelling than DVD.

Ben:
More specifically PIP for directors commentaries. HD DVD's ability to support multi-stream, is that unique to HD DVD?
Andy:
Blu-ray has two profiles, the standard is shipping today and most likely be what will ship this year. The other profile, is BD Live which is a connected player, which can connect to the internet and can support PIP as well as larger on board storage. PIP is part of the spec and by mid 2007 all player must be capable of PIP.

Ben:
You mentioned internal memory, bookmarking is an interesting feature. Are there and differences in the two formats in that regard?
Andy:
That is a hardware issue, not a format issue.
Ben:
Isn't it required for HD DVD players and not on Blu-ray.
Andy:
I don't know off the top of my head, I know it is not required on Blu-ray, but if that is something that consumers want, then obviously player companies will want to include that feature. I am not sure that is even a requirement on the HD DVD side. It could be true, but uncharacteristic of the forum to require that.

Ben:
How do you envision managed copy working and is there still a distinct difference in HD DVD and Blu-ray in regards to their managed copy?
Andy:
There never was a difference, that is a AACS function, has nothing to do with the formats, if you utilize AACS when the final specs are completed, than managed copy will become part of the specification.
Ben:
MS stated as it was not technical, but instead a license difference.
Andy:
Some companies were concerned that BDJ might interfere with managed copy. There is no such thing as mandatory managed copy in terms of the AACS spec. Mandatory means a title producer is required to support that. But right now it isn't part of the spec. BD+ will have no impact on managed copy. We do have it and have stated that we will have it and that if you have a BD player and managed copy is supported by AACS, than it will work the same as HD DVD, there will be no difference and BD+ will not interfere with it in any way shape or form.

Ben:
How do you see managed copy working.
Andy:
Managed copy is optional for hardware companies and if you have a player and you are prepared to have a device that can undertake a transaction function, meaning you are going to pay someone some money to make that copy. I think a lot of people may think managed copy means free copy. That is not the case at all, but if you are going to say I would like to make a coy of this to my portable viewing device and there is a dollar amount associated with that, then you have to have a hardware device that can make that a simple transaction. If you are in your living room and you say I would like to watch this on my portable media player, how do I do that. I would have a user interface that I go into and I would I say I would like to go onto a studios site for the particular disc and give them my credit card number and pay a fee to do that. That is just a question of whether we can work that into a player in a satisfactory operation for the user. We don't want to make it that difficult compounded by problems in their network. I suspect that it may operate more frequently in a computer environment than a stand alone player. Perhaps if they get more comfortable with transactions in the living room than perhaps we will start seeing that moving into more of a consumer electronics type model.
Ben:
Like a Kaleidescope?
Andy:
That is different in some ways, but it is likely to happen, but I am not sure when or who will support it. It will be interesting to see if Toshiba uses their network card to enable managed copy and what kind of interface they use to enable the feature.

Ben:
Can you explain BD+
Andy:
It is an optional content protection scheme that is available for content providers. All players must be able to support it. What it is another independent layer of content protection. It is there as a safety net for the security system of Blu-ray. If for some reason AACS is hacked and the studio becomes aware of that hack. They can use BD+ to look for the hack in the player and if the hack is found the studio can disallow playback of the titles on that player at that time. Nothing permanent is done to hardware or software. Anything BD+ is doing only exists in a virtual machine configuration where it is just running at this moment, but as soon as you eject the disc BD+ evaporates from the system. there is no persistence, there is no change made to your hardware or software.

Ben:
Do you see it more used on a PC than a CE device?
Andy:
It can be done on either, if someone were to hack a CE device, but it is more likely on a PC. We would like to think that AACS is strong enough where we never ever need BD+, but if for some reason it gets hacked, it gives the studios another way to avoid loosing their asset to someone who is making illegal copies of it.
Ben:
Could it be used to prevent a manufactures who doesn't correctly all the features of AACS?
Andy;
I don't think so because, we are reluctant to mess around with someone's physical property. BD+ also does not require an Internet connection and only effect known hacks or known problems. It is a reactive scheme, most importantly if I put that disc into another player that is not hacked it is not going to effect playback one bit.

Ben:
How do you feel, being from Pioneer and all, that Song gets all the credit for Blu-ray? What has Pioneer's role in the BDA?
Andy:
We began R&D way back in the 90's. I did a presentation that an old DVD conference called DVD Pro back in 2000. We didn't know at that time that we would be one day talking about a format called HD DVD. In fact we went to great lengths not to call it HD DVD. We decided that we need 2x the quality of broadcast quality.
Ben:
So do you think Pioneer has as big if not bigger role then Sony does?
Andy:
No, no Sony shipped a blu-ray drive two or three years and they do deserve the image of the leader of Blu-ray.
Ben:
Don't you think that it shows something that Samsung shipped the first Blu-ray player?
Andy:
Your point is that it isn't fair to call it a Sony product. In fact, we think that Sony gets rather annoyed when it is called that. The BDA is comprised of many successful CE and computer companies

Ben:
What's the biggest challenge getting a Blu-ray device up on the market?
Andy:
There is some many companies in the BDA that we want to make sure everything works together. We are doing a lot of round robin test to make sure all the titles work in everyones hardware. We are trying to make everything work together.

Matt:
A lot of the buzz is about dual/hybrid HD DVD/Blu-ray --is there something in the BDA licensing agreement preventing a manufacturer from making a dual player
Andy:
No, absolutely not and it clearly states that we have done nothing from limiting a manufacturer from making one of these dual format players.
Matt:
Do you see any of these coming out soon?
Andy:
Samsung said they aren't, LG made some noise about it but can be hard to make one of these. But why do you need one these if the studios are going to introduce the same titles on both? It works down to a point that you are going to have a dual format player just so you can watch Universal titles.
Matt:
Right, right but it just seems like the easy way out.
Andy:
Yeah, but I can tell you that Pioneers SACD/DVD Audio player didn't solve that war.

Matt:
Part of the thing we try to do is education. Is there any type of general marketing in the future in teams of education general consumers?
Andy:
Yeah, but we are trying to stay out of talking about the products, because of ant-trust issues. We are relying on the manufacturers to do that. We think their is an expectation that these makers will do the same thing that they did with DVDs and help educate.

Ben:
We did a post a while back on how retailers are already favoring Blu-ray, why is this.
Andy:
We think it is that they are comfortable with the manufactures that are behind Blu-ray. They understand that people match brands. Panasonic Blu-ray to a Panasonic plasma, Samsung to a Samsung and so on

Andy:
If we can pull back and look at the long term. Let's say that we should wait till the end of the year when there are multiple players with a lot more titles to declare someone a winner in this format war. I think that a lot of your comments on the site are quit wise by saying that it is too early to tell.
Matt:
You are always talking about the future, but right now, why would someone what to spend twice as much on a Blu-ray player then a HD DVD?
Andy:
'Cause they probably want to watch Disney movies in high-def, Sony picture movies in high-def and honestly speaking, its all about content. If there is a better selection of movies, that is the one people will by. Content is where this is going to be decided.

Ben:
Well, thanks for stopping by and spending sometime with us.
Matt:
One more, what kind of HDTV do you have
Andy:
Pioneer elite rear-projection-- surprised?
Matt:
Not at all. Well, thanks once again Andy.

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