Fox' Blu-ray Blame Game Not Driving Consumers to HD
As is becoming typical of BD-J encoded interactive titles, load times on standalone players (i.e., anything not the PS3) of around three minutes are common, and according to widespread reports Samsung's BD-P1000 and 2nd-gen BD-P1200 players and LG's Multi-Blu combi player wouldn't play these discs at all.
Not only do people not like it when cool new release movies have problems playing, it's not good for either HD on disc on the whole when reports circulate that a highly touted day and date title has problems. We need better performance than this for either HD format to catch hold.
I count load time from the time the disc goes into the tray until I see the first studio logo/menu. That's when I can start using the chapter skip to jump forward so I can actually watch the movie. So, if it's around three minutes to the first logo it's longer still to movie time. I note this because I've seen some reports that cite closer to a minute on standalone players for these titles. I'm guessing some of these folks are counting time to the first loading ticker, which I don't count since all that indicates is you have another two minutes to wait.
I tested FF4 and Day After Tomorrow with the Pioneer Elite BDP-94HD I have on hand, which has been a very reliable player and has load times typical of other second-gen standalones. It was a minute until a first, apparently player-generated loading ticker graphic came up, another minute until an apparently disc-specific loading ticker came up, and then another minute to logo and interaction.
Testing these titles on Sony's PS3 they loaded in 30-40 seconds. This is longer than non-BD-J titles load by a factor of three or so, but still quite acceptable.
Now, Samsung indeed acted swiftly. These Fox discs came out on October 2nd, and Samsung had a firmware update disseminated Friday October 12th. Fox had gotten out in front in issuing a big-ish "they-a-culpa," essentially blaming these hardware manufacturers with an exec telling Video Business, “We are releasing more and more advanced interactive titles, and consumers should lobby their hardware manufacturers to release firmware upgrades post haste.”
This might be something of a misdirection play, nailing BD-J interactivity as the problem. But you can see why Fox might do so. In sending out its announcement, Samsung's PR people referred to its update as a "BD+ firmware update." If BD+ were solely to blame, this would essentially mean that serious playback issues were caused by Fox' desire to take additional (and probably ultimately futile) steps to protect its content, which does not benefit legal, paying Blu-ray consumers one bit.
As far as BD-J interactivity goes, FF4 has two interactive games, and Day After Tomorrow a game and a subtitle trivia track. So, you can take your pick. These issues are either related to copy protection that doesn't benefit paying Blu-ray supporters at all, or to the coding required for interactive games and trivia, which I cannot classify as desirable features let alone worth the trouble.
Toshiba's first-generation players had one-minute load times, but the second and third-generation players are loading even the latest and most loaded interactive discs in 30 seconds or so. It's been typical that as titles with new features are released on HD DVD, such as 300, Blood Diamond and Heroes, the requisite firmware updates came ahead of time, before those discs hit the stores.
If Blu-ray players and discs don't start to follow suit soon, this is not going to be helpful for the adoption of HD on a disc as whole. Having second and third-gen players that load and react this slowly with BD-J interactive discs, which are only going to become more prevalent, is excessive by any reasonable definition and simply isn't going to be acceptable to a lot of consumers. While we know that these interactivity features are just starting to ramp up on the discs, the impression Average Joe is left with is that for all appearances Blu-ray playback is getting slower, not faster, and less reliable, not more.
And in this situation, it's hard to let Fox off the hook in spite of its remonstrations of Samsung and LG. Samsung is a big player in the standalone BD player market, so it's hard to believe Fox wouldn't have tested these movies with Samsung's players and worked with them to get a firmware update offered before the movies actually came out. Instead, Fox apparently just threw its format partner under the bus after the you-know-what hit the fan instead of apologizing to their affected consumers.
Before all you Blu-ray fanboys get into a lather and blast me for being biased you need to stop and realize that this is bigger than your little skirmishes in favor of your pet format. As all of you are so gleeful in pointing out, Blu-ray is leading in hardware and software sales (yes I count the PS3 as hardware). Blockbuster is featuring only Blu-ray in 1,500 of its stores, and Target is going to be marketing and selling Sony standalone BD players exclusively and aggressively in its stores this holiday season. Three minute load times and hot new release titles that don't play won't help Blu-ray or HD on a disc get established. It will get players and discs returned to the store.
I am on record- I don't care which format succeeds, or if both do. I like and support both formats with my own money. But I need one of them to survive and grow into a viable format because I want the best movie experience I can get at home. These issues shoot supporters of both formats in the foot and the sooner they're in the rear view mirror the better for all of us.