Three months ago I was on one of those rare highs that comes from producing something that previously was impossible, in this case a high-definition movie I could play in my living room. I described two ways to accomplish this in Right Here, Right Now: Authoring and Burning HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs.
It was a heady feeling, and I recall thinking that small-studio producers, as well as home and corporate high-def wannabes, could actually drive HD market acceptance and perhaps even impact the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD marketing war. Then I bought another Blu-ray player and got a sudden dose of reality.
I had just finished taping my wife's ballet company's performance of The Nutcracker and was determined to produce a high-definition DVD, more for the experience than with the hope of selling any. I decided to produce bits of it in HD DVD, burning a dual-layer DVD-R disc, and a full version on Blu-ray, courtesy of Sonic's DVDit and the Pioneer BDR-101A burner.
Though I had a Toshiba HD DVD player to test my work, I had already had to return the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player that I had used for testing in Right Here, Right Now: Authoring and Burning HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs. So I requested another, and while waiting for it to arrive, produced the Blu-ray disc.
The Samsung player showed up and, as my daughters love to say, there was just one problem—the Nutcracker disc refused to play. So I tried several of the discs that had I had burned for the HD story, which played perfectly on the BD-P1000, and none of them would play either.
The first thing I checked was whether there had been a firmware upgrade on the unit and was relieved to find that there had been, since I assumed that the update would resolve the problem. About an hour later, I was back up and running, but when I retried all the discs, there was still no joy in Mudville.
Next, I Googled "BD-P1000" and "DVDit," and quickly hit paydirt. It all relates to the difference between BDMV and BDAV, two acronyms that I had happily never heard of before my research. Briefly, BDMV and BDAV are two recordable disc formats enabled under the Blu-ray Disc specifications. BDMV is the format used by DVDit because it enables menus, interactivity, alternate audio, and subtitle tracks, essentially delivering feature parity with current DVD±R technology. BDAV is targeted more for home recording functions, and offers far fewer authoring-related features (similar to the DVD±VR formats designed for set-top DVD burners).
When Blu-ray was first released, BDMV recording on Blu-ray discs was not supported, though it was later added in September 2006. Here's where it gets interesting.
It turns out that the earliest releases of the Samsung firmware, including the one I tested, supported BDMV. Later firmware releases, issued after BDMV support was introduced, inexplicably removed playback support for the format. Working with folks I met online, I obtained a much earlier firmware revision, and ultimately got the Nutcracker Blu-ray disc to play, making it, without question, the first high-definition disc authored here in Galax, Virginia (please hold your applause).
Again, though, there's just one problem: newer commercial Blu-ray Discs won't play on my outdated player. That's not an issue for me, since I still have an HD DVD player I can use for the rare movie that I absolutely have to see in HD. But it takes the Samsung out of the running for recommending to any parents who might want to buy my Blu-ray Nutcracker, not to mention anyone I sell on the idea of a hi-def wedding. Fortunately, there is an alternative, the Panasonic DMP-BD10, which according to several reports on the Roxio and Blu-ray forums, works perfectly with Blu-ray discs authored in DVDit.
What does Samsung have to say? Unfortunately, though I greatly admire Samsung's products and product marketing, it's one of those monolithic companies that conceals marketing and product manager types, the usual sources of information, from probing press-types like me. I never got to ask why they initially supported BDMV when it wasn't required in the specification, and later dropped BDMV support after it was officially mandated.
After several rounds with a public relations contact explaining and defining the problem, I heard that BDMV support might be added in a firmware upgrade to be released in either February or April. Though unstated, what came through loud and clear was a total lack of appreciation for the repercussions of their BDMV-related decisions to those attempting to author Blu-ray Discs.
Anyway, there's at least a chance that by the time you read this column, a fix may be available. But then again, maybe not. Either way, the enduring lesson is that the market is still nascent and that you have to be careful when recommending products to your customers. Specifically, test before you recommend, and let your clients know that seemingly irrelevant changes like updating your firmware can convert your vibrant hi-def discs into useless coasters.
Jan Ozer (www.doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines on digital video-related topics and the author of Adobe Digital Video How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques with Adobe Production Studio, published by Peachpit Press.