'Sleeping Beauty' awakes on Blu-ray

Disney's animated classic comes with many features

The folks at Walt Disney Studios are out to change the way consumers view movies in the home. In October, Disney will release its first animated classic on Blu-ray Disc, "Sleeping Beauty," offering viewers a full palate of high-tech viewing options.

Thanks to BD Live technology, which connects to the Internet, viewers will be able to pop "Sleeping Beauty" into their Blu-ray Disc player and get a customized version of the famed Sleeping Beauty castle that serves as a backdrop for the menu. The sky behind the castle will reflect actual weather conditions in their hometown, whether it's a blizzard in Cleveland or a balmy day in San Diego.

After the movie starts to play, they'll be able to chat with fellow viewers right on the movie screen, using a laptop, Blackberry or other PDA. They'll be able to insert customized video messages anywhere in the movie and send them to friends or family members via a Disney "movie mail" feature. They'll be able to play trivia games with fellow viewers across the country, and when they're done get a constant supply of preview trailers simply by inserting the disc into their Web-connected player.

Bob Chapek, president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, is hoping the release "will revolutionize the way people will interact with, and view, movies in the home."

To further the interactive viewing experience, Chapek said, the chat, trivia and movie mail functions also will generate "reward" points that disc owners can redeem for ringtones, wallpapers and avatars by going to the Disney BD Live Portal.

"We truly pulled out all the stops in launching this technology and redefining how consumers will experience movies in the home from this point forward," Chapek said.

Disney is playing right to cutting-edge consumers who are eager to make the leap to Blu-ray Disc but who want more than just a sharper picture. A new study from the Diffusion Group says consumers want Web-enabled features on their next disc player, seeing it as relatively inexpensive, reliable and simple to use compared with game consoles and PCs.

Disney also wants to connect people online through a secured network. "Parents don't have to worry," Chapek said. "We're trying to connect families, so for example your daughter can talk to her grandmother in Cincinnati while they are both watching the same movie, and you can leave the room and not have to worry."

But there's a hitch: Early adopters who already own Blu-ray Disc players will have to buy new machines to take advantage of BD Live technology. When the next-generation format first came to market in June 2006, it was rushed into stores to minimize any advantage rival high-def disc format HD DVD may have had in arriving two months earlier.

HD DVD, developed by Toshiba, came with Web-enabled features, though not as fanciful as what Disney is doing, right out of the gate. For nearly two years, the formats competed against each other.

Blu-ray spent the first year trying to gain a foothold in the market, then began playing catch-up, beginning with picture-in-picture technology last October and now BD Live.

At this point, only Sony's PlayStation 3 can harness BD Live technology. The first BD Live-capable players, from Sony and Panasonic, won't hit stores until summer.

The advent of BD Live could give Blu-ray a decided lift, said Russ Crupnick of research firm the NPD Group. "BD Live promises to move potential Blu-ray buyers off the sidelines," he said, citing a recent study that shows 40% of consumers who are likely Blu-ray buyers want interactive capabilities like BD Live.

"BD Live takes home movie viewing to a whole new level," Crupnick said. "We are in an increasingly interactive environment, with online gaming, social networking and virtual communities like Second Life ingraining themselves into pop culture. Taking that experience into the living room is a natural next step."

Disney isn't the only studio that has announced plans to implement BD Live technology. Lionsgate's Blu-ray versions of "War" and "Saw IV," released in January, offer a chat feature. Sony released its first two BD Live features in April: "The Sixth Day" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" come with exclusive downloadable extra content. And Fox's "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" lets viewers superimpose themselves into a game and play against others over the Internet.

"BD Live allows packaged media to live forever and allows us to build a direct relationship with the consumer," said Lexine Wong, senior executive vp at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Hardware manufacturers also are hoping BD Live will spur the market. "BD Live is an important step in the evolution and rapid consumer adoption of the Blu-ray format," said Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, vp corporate development of the Blu-ray group for Panasonic and GM. Panasonic has been a leader in BD-Java player and production development, which is the springboard to BD Live.
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