Sony touts interactive features for Blu-ray

Executives admit that BD-Live is still in early stages

In the latest move to push interactive features of Blu-ray Discs, Sony on Wednesday hosted an industry event on its lot to demo so-called BD-Live capabilities built into the high-def format.

Such features are accessible only when consumers connect online with content offered in connection with a particular Blu-ray title. All distributors releasing in Blu-ray can make use of such capabilities, but some studios have been more bullish than others on exploiting BD-Live.

So with the need for broadband access, it was big news at January's Consumer Electronics Show when Sony Electronics announced that a wireless-compatible Blu-ray player would hit stores by June. On Wednesday, execs noted advances also have been made in the user-friendliness of wireless routers.

Sony home entertainment boss David Bishop acknowledged the BD-Live demo event was necessary because the technology's launch "had come with many challenges." Besides connectivity issues, glitches have included overlong download times and user-registration complexity.

"I like to say we're just at the 'Pong' stage of BD-Live, if you were to compare it to the video game industry," Bishop quipped.

That sort of glib honesty seemed to be the order of the day. After Sony publicist Fritz Friedman boasted that the event was being held in a soundstage where the yellow-brick road scene from "The Wizard of Oz" had been filmed, Bishop offered a good-natured rejoinder.

"I've been here four years now," he said, "and at every event it's been said that we're in 'the yellow-brick road' soundstage."

But if BD-Live has had a sluggish start in the marketplace, Sony touted several nifty applications for recent Blu-ray releases as evidence of its compelling possibilities. Sony has offered some sort of BD-Live features on 80 of its home entertainment titles since June.

For "Casino Royale," it was a peer-to-peer trivia game. On "Step Brothers," viewers were able to produce a customized music video using disc content.

A "CineChat" feature on "The Da Vinci Code" allows viewers to chat with one another about the film and potentially can be used for filmmaker Q&A sessions.

Elsewhere, Disney has been particularly bullish on the interactive capabilities of the Blu-ray format, including interactive features with almost all Disney home entertainment titles since its October release of "Sleeping Beauty" in the high-def format.

Warner Home Video's BD-Live applications included a well-received BD-Live interview with "The Dark Knight" helmer Christopher Nolan.

Ultimately, studio execs hope Blu-ray's interactive features will help broaden consumers' embrace of high-def discs, which has struggled to gain a firm footing in the marketplace amid tough economic conditions.

Also on Wednesday, WHV announced a Web-based loyalty program for purchasers of its Blu-ray titles as well as a program aimed at getting early adopters of the since-failed high-def format HD-DVD to convert to Blu-ray. The loyalty program offers registered consumers a free Blu-ray disc for each five purchases; the Blu-ray conversion program allows consumers to trade in up to 25 HD-DVD discs for Blu-ray versions of the same titles, paying only for shipping and handling.