With rival on ropes, Blu-ray primps for victory party

Plugs interactivity, new features

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LAS VEGAS -- For Blu-ray Disc supporters, it's all about interactivity.

Flush with a feeling of victory after Warner Home Video ditched HD DVD and New Line reportedly followed suit, leaving the next-generation format with just two of the six major studios in its camp, the Blu-ray studios are now bent on playing catch-up.

HD DVD, after all, came to market nearly two years ago with all its interactive features operational. Not so for Blu-ray, which was rushed to market two months after HD DVD's April 2006 launch in essentially a half-baked form.

Early Blu-ray Disc releases didn't feature much in the way of extras. Only last November did Panasonic release the first Blu-ray player capable of picture-in-picture, and it wasn't until this week that Panasonic and Sony said plans for a "final spec" Blu-ray player are in the works for this year, offering both picture-in-picture and BD-Live, which lets viewers connect to the Internet for a variety of interactive options, from downloading new trailers and additional content to playing multiplayer video games.

At October's Blu-ray Disc Festival in Hollywood, several studios mentioned plans to include the picture-in-picture, or Bonus View, option on upcoming Blu-ray Disc releases, like 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "Sunshine." But it wasn't until CES this week that Blu-ray's interactive potential was really thrust into the spotlight.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment worldwide president David Bishop said at one of several Blu-ray news conferences and events at CES that "we're ready for the next phase -- to really start to develop interactivity. We'll really get a chance to use our creative juices."



At a Sony press event, Bishop and his team focused on BD-Live, considered the Cadillac of Blu-ray's interactive potential. Sony plans to use BD-Live to allow consumers to play games, hear live commentary and even create their own avatars to insert into a film, among other networking activities.

Sony executive vp advanced technologies Don Eklund demonstrated downloading a low-resolution movie on a Blu-ray Disc to the PlayStation Portable through the PlayStation 3. He also demonstrated sending a ringtone to a phone through a connected Blu-ray Disc.

"The evidence is growing at a rather rapid rate that Blu-ray is dominating the field," said film critic Leonard Maltin, who hosted the event.

Maltin interviewed producer Dean Devlin about the benefits of digital filmmaking and Blu-ray. Devlin also praised the interactivity options on the new high-def format.

"It's just going to expand that universe so much more," he said.

"(A film) is no longer frozen in time," Maltin added.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, too, plans on including picture-in-picture and BD-Live on upcoming Blu-ray Disc releases. Interactive content in the pipeline includes virtual games, full-motion picture-in-picture and online shopping capabilities.

"Sleeping Beauty," the first vintage Disney animated film to appear on Blu-ray (a release is planned for fall 2008), will use BD-Live technology to offer a Virtual Castle as well as the interactive game "Maleficent's Challenge."

Worldwide president Bob Chapek anticipates the disc will "allow consumers to create an entirely new home entertainment experience with stunning new bonus features and amazing interactive capabilities, the likes of which have never before been seen."

Similarly, "Finding Nemo" will include an interactive visual commentary with director Andrew Stanton and others, along with a virtual sticker book that lets viewers earn stickers by answering quizzes about sea life while watching the movie.
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