The Moving Picture: NAB 2008: What's New with Blu-ray?
Posted Jun 1, 2008

At this writing I’m just back from NAB, and wanted to let you know what’s up with Blu-ray. I’ll cover the recorder/printer market first, then move to software, then touch on replication. Starting with the least expensive unit, Primera (which now offers Blu-ray support in its entire Bravo line, up to the network-capable Bravo XRn) is selling the Bravo SE with Blu-ray for a street price of $2,900 with a $500 rebate scheduled to expire at the end of May, but may continue depending on how the units sell. Primera offers both Mac and Windows clients with the base unit, and shared network use for an additional $500.

Moving up the food chain, Microboards is offering the new MX-1 for $4,495 with two Blu-ray recorders and a 100-disc capacity. Notably, the new unit uses separate ink cartridges, which means less waste and a reported drop in print cost to nine cents per disc. In addition, Microboards scrapped the outdated Prassi Windows interface for a new proprietary design that is a vast improvement. Microboards will continue to ship Charismac for Mac users, but that program still lacks network capabilities, so networked Mac users won’t be able to take advantage of the MX-1 like their Windows-based counterparts.

Finally, at the high end, Rimage offers several devices with units with up to 4 recorders and 300-disc capacity for over $40,000, with single recorder/printer devices costing around $10,000. Why the price premium? First, all Rimage devices are standalone systems with a processor and network capabilities, so you don’t need a computer to run them. Second, all systems can be accessed by Mac and Windows computers over a network, and controlled remotely via browser-based control software. Third, Rimage can now print at 600dpi, with its new Everest 600, which represents a visible improvement over its own Everest III solution and visually matches the silkscreening used on replicated discs.

Finally, Rimage’s Video Protect copy protection feature prevents DVDs from being copied by the most commonly used DVD ripping and copying programs. If you provide three discs to a bride, with additional discs at $40 or so, this protects your future revenue stream. With stage, worship, or sports events with larger target markets, the revenue savings could be even greater. Note that you don’t have to own a Rimage duplicator to take advantage of this service since many service bureaus with Rimage equipment offer this feature, which can cost as little as $1/disc.

On the software side, Sony Creative Software added Blu-ray authoring to DVD Architect 5. Like Adobe Encore and Sonic Solutions DVDit, Sony simply extended the program’s full range of DVD authoring features to Blu-ray, and didn’t add full Blu-ray Java support. (Sonic Scenarist-level BDMV and BD-J support is available in newly updated Sony’s Blu-print 4.3 solution.) However, the program can burn Blu-ray-compatible projects with menus onto DVD±R media, which Encore can’t do, though the Sony rep indicated that playback compatibility may be an issue. DVD Architect 5 is a free upgrade to DVD Architect 4.5 and Vegas 8 and is scheduled to ship in June 2008.

Also at the show, Sonic Solutions announced support for AACS in DVDit HD, a $299 program, along with export to the Cutting Master Format. Both these features are required if you’re preparing a disc as a mastering source for Blu-ray replication. You don’t get the fancy overlays or BD-Live or Java support available in high-end authoring programs like Sony Blu-print or Sonic Scenarist, but you should be able to produce a project that you can replicate, which formerly required one of these two $40,000 solutions.

This could be a very significant feature for mid-sized Blu-ray producers shipping 50–500 discs because it dramatically drops the up front cost for producing BD titles for replication. As you probably know, the compatibility of BD-R/RE media is pretty iffy on many older Blu-ray players—especially those with out-of-date firmware—since many shipped before BD-R discs were available for testing. If you’re producing 2-3 Blu-ray Discs for a video client, you can direct them towards known compatible players, test on their current players, or simply build a compatible Blu-ray player into the price and sell it as part of the package. While you might not be able to fix the problem for those who’ve already taken the Blu-ray plunge, at least you can warn them up front.

If you’re producing for the mass market, you either own Scenarist or Blu-print or use a service bureau that does, so can replicate the discs, which is pretty affordable, if you don’t include the $40,000 software investment. Now, with the Sonic announcement, the software cost drops to $299, albeit for a product with far fewer features.

Some rough break-even calculations reveal that if you’re producing 600 discs and authoring with DVDit HD, it’s cheaper to replicate than to record and print your own. Interestingly, if you remove AACS copy protection from the picture, the break-even number drops to about 230 units, which would cost around $3,450 to record and print at $15 per unit, not counting the costs of handling tech support and refunds for the discs that didn’t play. For the same cash, you could replicate 1,000 Blu-ray discs that should play reliably on all target players. Of course, you can’t remove AACS from the equation because you can’t replicate a Blu-ray Disc without paying $3,000 up front and about $1,600 per title for AACS.

From my perspective, the Blu-ray industry is poorly serving mid-size producers in this regard, especially considering that many producers don’t care about copy protection and that AACS has already been broken. It’s a true Catch-22; you either pay $3,000 up front and $1,600 per disc for a technology that you don’t want and currently doesn’t work, or produce the discs on BD-R and risk massive playback problems in the field. The Blu-ray industry should be able to find some middle ground that allows producers to opt out of AACS when they decide that copy protection isn’t required for their projects.

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a contributing editor to EventDV and Streaming Media.