Follow the BD-Live Road

On Wednesday this week, I attended The BD-Live Experience, a press event hosted by Sony Pictures and Sony Electronics. It was held at Sony Pictures Studios' Stage 29, a cavernous soundstage in which, we were told, the "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" musical sequence was shot for The Wizard of Oz in 1939 when the studio was operated by MGM. Clearly, Sony was hoping to lead journalists on a similar path toward the Blu-ray City of Aahs.

For those who aren't familiar with it, BD-Live refers to a Blu-ray player's ability to connect to the Internet with its Ethernet port and allow users to engage in various online activities offered by a growing number of titles. Up to now, these activities have been quite rudimentary, such as downloading trailers for other movies and instant messaging with friends who are watching the movie at the same time.

The launch of BD-Live was underwhelming in other ways as well, such as overloaded servers, cumbersome registration procedures, incompatible passwords, and slow downloads. Perhaps even more important is the fact that relatively few Blu-ray owners have a broadband Internet connection in their entertainment room. As one representative said, "We're at the Pong stage with BD-Live."

Still, independent market research indicates that BD-Live has strong appeal, especially for younger audiences. And BD-Live content can be regularly refreshed and updated, unlike the bonus materials on the disc. Sony's BD-Live servers attract 100,000 unique visitors per week, and over 3.5 million consumers have accessed at least one BD-Live screen.

The BD-Live Experience was meant to show the press the latest in Sony's BD-Live capabilities. There were several stations set up around the soundstage, each showcasing a different BD-Live feature found on one or more new titles. For example, Step Brothers includes a video editor that lets you place clips from a music video in any order and upload your creation to a server where others can rate it. Casino Royale offers the opportunity to play a James Bond trivia game alone or with up to seven others online, and Cadillac Records lets you compile a music playlist and share it online.

The Da Vinci Code includes online instant messaging called CineChat and eMovie Cash good for $10 off a ticket to see the upcoming Angels and Demons in theaters starting May 15. You can also download exclusive footage of the Angels and Demons Rome premier.

Finally, the Sony Pictures BD Club lets you earn points with which you can buy stuff like Blu-ray titles and even electronics. Each title you register earns around 100 points, and signing up gets you 150 points. A Blu-ray disc costs around 2500 points, and electronics are in the tens or hundreds of thousands, so don't expect to get an HDTV any time soon—unless you win one in the club's once-a-month drawing.

I'm sorry, but I don't find much of interest in these activities. Maybe it's because I'm over 25, but when I watch a movie, I want to watch the movie and not be distracted by IM chats and such. (I don't invoke Bonus View PIP for the same reason.) Even if I was into it, the onscreen keyboard is alphabetical, not QWERTY, and you have to navigate the cursor to each letter with the remote, which takes forever. And things like sharing playlists and playing trivia games don't float my boat either. On the other hand, I'll certainly take advantage of that $10 coupon to see Angels and Demons.

Future BD-Live plans include RSS feeds, live video streams, and mobile apps, which could be more interesting. And I recognize that the potential of this technology is far greater than anything we've seen so far. But for now, I'm happy to stay in Munchkinland watching movies in glorious color and higher definition than the Wizard of Oz ever dreamed of.

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