Having left early enough to be properly fueled at a nearby Big Boy restaurant, I arrived Monday at The Ebell of Los Angeles, an educational and philanthropic organization, thinking how appropriate it is for Disney to be presenting their classic “Sleeping Beauty” within a structure reminiscent of a castle. But beyond the title lurks the high-definition technology of today - Blu-ray - and even more so the Internet connectivity that is just now starting to stand out. Blu-ray won the format war, but one of the casualties was the passing of some 2 years in which the online factor could have been developed into some serious entertainment going beyond just mere eye-candy.
Instead we have to party like it’s 2006 all over again. Fortunately Disney not only knows how to party, but also how to make it worthwhile to be attending one. The Mouse House has thrown down the gauntlet for internet connectivity, even if there aren’t that many Prince Charmings out there to pick it up. As it stands right now, for the most part it’s a Playstation 3 or nothing - at least for first and second generation BD player owners. Still, those new to the high-def game have other hardware choices for online connectivity (see Panasonic), and Disney is looking to be far ahead of the game as the numbers grow. And just in case you have room for yet another new label, we’ll be calling internet connectivity on a Blu-ray player “BD-Live.”
There’s much more to BD-Live than downloading movie trailers or hawking ringtones, which seems to be the reason why Disney is previewing these features four months before the movies October release. The point is quickly reiterated by Bob Chapek, President of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment as he takes the podium up against a bank of plasma HDTVs belting out the best view of “Sleeping Beauty” since old Walt first released it to the public. Chapek lays down a few of the high spots of this Blu-ray first: “It’s pristine and as detailed as the first time the Disney animators did it, it’s in the original 2:55:1 aspect ratio that’s never been seen before for home viewing, it uses the original recordings that were found in Germany to now be presented in 7.1 surround.”
Impressive as that is, Disney plans to build a community around Blu-ray and BD-Live that can further both the format and the viewer’s experience. How does Disney plan to do that? “By making the family room relevant again,” Chapek says. The goal is to make the disc a portal to a wealth of activities funneled through Disney; a safe and protected online connection. It’s very much focused on families, friends and those children who take chatting, conversing and interacting online for granted, but still need a bit of navigation. On the “Sleeping Beauty” disc, this consists of the following BD-Live enabled extras: Movie Chat, Movie Mail, and Movie Challenge.
The demonstration stations are next on the schedule. Movie Chat is quite easy to understand: during viewing, you use an onscreen keyboard to chat with others watching in other locations. Registration is required and you only chat with your “trusted friends.” There are parental controls and monitoring of logs to keep things above board. I’m also told you can interact with the player using a laptop, PDA or iPhone. Entertaining as Movie Chat is, I found Movie Mail more intriguing. You create a video clip, upload it to the server, select the recipient and the moment during the movie when you want it to appear. When your recipient reaches this point in the movie, your video appears as a pop-up window. It’s a cute way to say hi to a child or the family when Dad’s on the road. With the Movie Challenge feature, viewers take part in trivia contests with others playing across the country. As an added bonus, users win reward points which can be redeemed for ringtones, wallpaper and access to new movie trailers.
Of course, the one BD-Live feature I really wanted to see - the customized home screen which reflects the weather conditions in your home town around the castle - wasn’t ready to fly yet. So I’ll just have to wait a few more months to see how wide awake Blu-ray and BD-Live can make “Sleeping Beauty” and me.
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