Networked Interactivity Features Coming to HD DVD?

HD DVD might be taking another leap ahead on the interactivity front. The most recent firmware update for Toshiba's first-gen HD DVD players adds "support for certain anticipated network delivered content in future HD DVD discs." Those of you who can get your HD-A1 or HD -XA1 player to an Ethernet connection can download the update from the 'Net, or you can contact Toshiba to get the update on a disc.

Now, just what that anticipated content is or what studio it will come from, we don't know, but I have to admit I'm curious if Neo and his crew from The Matrix trilogy have anything to do with this update, which arrives just over a month ahead of our chance to take the red pill and follow the white rabbit in HD.

Either way, this is is another feather or two in the cap of HD DVD and in a couple of different ways. Interactivity was supposed to be where Blu-ray rules with its Java-based interactivity. This hasn't been the case at all. HD DVD has lead the way with an impressive variety of innovative picture-in-picture based features, most notably with Universal's U-Control and Warner's In-Movie Experience (IME) feature sets (here at UAV we're long overdue on an article or two covering these).

As I write this none of the standalone Blu-ray players currently on the market support PIP features, and not all of them even have Ethernet connections. The BDs that seemingly have PIP features (like Lion's Gate horror fest The Descent) actually have two versions of the film encoded on a 50GB disc, one of which has the additional video material incpororated. It's rumored that the PS3 has the hardware horse power to support PIP, but I've not been able to get Sony to confirm this and of course there is no software I'm aware of to test this capability.

However ergonomically challenged Toshiba's first-gen players are, it's a huge credit to Toshiba that these players supported such a strong feature set from the outset, and that further updates are keeping these players not only working, but cranking along with the latest features coming down the pike on the HD DVD format. The Blu-ray Disc Association did not make suport for full Java interactivity mandatory for its first-gen players, and only recently set an October 2007 deadline for BD-Java compliance in players.

Since we've all taken our shots at those first-gen Toshiba players, I feel good givin' 'em some love!