Author! Author!

Panasonic has announced that starting July 1st, it will begin providing authoring services for studios producing Blu-ray titles (BD-ROM) at the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory (PHL) in Universal City, California. Panasonic began authoring DVD titles for various studios in the U.S. in 1996, and has now installed state-of-the-art equipment to perform similar services for the Blu-ray platform.

Interestingly, the equipment chosen for this work uses the MPEG-4 Advanced Video Codec (AVC). MPEG-4 is said to be twice as efficient in its use of data space as the MPEG-2 codec used for standard definition DVDs and broadcast high-definition. Blu-ray software providers can use VC-1, AVC, or MPEG-2. BD players must be designed to decode all three video compression formats. All of the early Sony/MGM Blu-ray titles have used MPEG-2, and all HD DVD's released so far employ the VC-1 codec from Microsoft. No commercial releases to date, as far as we know, use MPEG-4.

On August 1 Panasonic will begin similar Blu-ray (BD-ROM) authoring services in Tokyo. The Japan facility will use the same selection of equipment as the one in Hollywood.

Panasonic has also just announced the availability of its first Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD10. It's expected to be available this September at $1,299.95. This is a higher price point than Panasonic has had in its disc player line for some time, and may present a marketing challenge for the company. The first Blu-ray players from Sony and Pioneer will also be expensive, but both of those companies have long had high-end players at the top of their respective product lines.

The DMP-BD10 is said to be compatible not only with Blu-ray discs, but with CDs and conventional DVDs as well. DVD upconversion to a maximum of 1080p is offered from its HDMI output.