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Profile Issues Confuse Consumers as They Upgrade From DVD to Blu-ray Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 May 2008
Now that Blu-ray manufacturers don’t have a format war to contend with, they can focus on giving us players that take advantage of Blu-ray’s full technological potential. One of the main criticisms of the format thus far is that the first crop of players didn’t support interactive features like picture-in-picture playback and Internet connectivity (features that we got with early-generation HD DVD players, I might add). These initial players – called Profile 1.0 players – lack both the internal hardware to support PIP and the Ethernet port to connect to the Internet, so the omissions can’t be fixed with a software upgrade. If you purchased a Blu-ray player before November of last year, you’ll need to upgrade if you want to access all the bonus content that could appear on future Blu-ray releases. Are you now eyeing that $1,000 first-generation Blu-ray player in your gear rack with a bit more cynicism? I’d like to think that those people who can afford a $1,000 player wouldn’t think twice about the cost of an upgrade; I could be wrong.

If 2008 is the year you plan to go “Blu,” you’ll find better-equipped models across the board, but you still aren’t guaranteed the complete package. As of November 1, 2007, all Blu-ray players are required to be Profile 1.1, which means they must include the secondary audio and video decoders needed to watch PIP commentaries and features. However, manufacturers aren’t yet required to support the BD-Live function that lets you access Internet features via an Ethernet port; that’s part of the Profile 2.0 spec. It’s disappointing that many manufacturers have opted not to include BD-Live in this year’s models, but props to those companies that have voluntarily chosen to support the feature in their 2008 players. Sony, Panasonic and Daewoo (yeah, Daewoo) have announced plans to release BD-Live players this year, with Panasonic’s model scheduled to arrive first, in May. Samsung has announced that its BD-P1500, slated for a June release, will be BD-Live-ready, which means it has an Ethernet port but won’t support BD-Live at its initial launch (the needed firmware upgrade is supposed to come before year’s end). Sony will also release a BD-Live-ready player this summer. Sharp recently pushed back the release of its BD-HP50U from April to October; I’m hoping the company has had a change of heart and decided to add BD-Live or at least an Ethernet port to the player. Time will tell.

Of course, you don’t have to wait to get full functionality … if you’re willing to embrace a gaming console as your Blu-ray source. The PlayStation 3 has always had the necessary hardware and Ethernet port for PIP and BD-Live, but the features needed to be enabled via a firmware upgrade. The Profile 1.1 upgrade came late last year, and the much-anticipated Profile 2.0 upgrade arrived last month, making the PlayStation 3 the only Profile 2.0 player currently on the market. In other PlayStation 3 news, Sony is also adding DTS-HD Master Audio decoding to the console via an April firmware upgrade.

Now, I’m not insisting that Profile 2.0 players are the only ones worth buying. It may be difficult for hardcore Blu-ray devotees to believe, but some people really don’t care that much about bonus content. Some don’t judge a disc by its extras and may never watch a single featurette or deleted scene. I myself am not all that interested in Web-enabled features, but I do like the idea of picture-in-picture commentary, at least when it involves my favorite directors and actors, so a Profile 1.1 player suits me just fine. Even an older Profile 1.0 player meets the needs of the movie lover who cares only about video and audio quality – although the Profile 1.1 players I’ve encountered have faster response times and are better able to handle BD-Java menus, which makes for a more satisfying user experience. Audiophiles probably care more about the player’s ability to decode or pass the bitstream of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks than they do about the inclusion of an Ethernet port. In a perfect world, though, we wouldn’t have to make such distinctions, as every Blu-ray player would have all of the features and functionality we want. Sadly, that world is still a ways off.

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