After a lengthy and painful birth, Blu-ray and HD DVD discs are well-and-truly here. But we can't help but feel a little underwhelmed with the impact HD movies have had on our lives. Interactivity was supposed to allow new possibilities between your TV and high-def movies, but are those features ready for prime time? We take a look, and for a second opinion, asked the head of Paramount Studios.
Interview: Paramount's CTO Alan Bell on getting more from HD discs
Interactivity means development time and development resources. Paramount's chief technology officer, Alan Bell, sat down with PC Advisor to answer a few questions.
Given the emphasis on interactivity during the panel discussion, we found some of his answers intriguing. This summer, both Pramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation switched from supporting Blu-ray and HD DVD to backing HD DVD exclusively.
PCA: What can you tell us about the direction you see interactivity going in?
Bell: It acts as a safety valve - things that didn't get put into the local disc can be introduced by a connection, such as language tracks and filmographies, and so forth. You have an open-ended capability to enrich the content on the disc. And you can build communities. The whole notion of building a community around activities is where Web 2.0 is going.
Interactivity is an essential ingredient. With HD DVD, it's in place as a mandatory factor from the outset, so consumers will have it in their player without having to know to ask for it. And programmers can invest in developing content and ideas that rely on connectivity, having a clear idea of the publishing base.
PCA: Not having to ask for it brings up the point that people likely don't know what to ask for or anticipate asking for when it comes to player-based interactivity. Do you think it's too early for interactivity?
Bell: From a content-owners view, the way you program the interactivity is far more simplified if you have more consistency, more predictability, and better interoperability. It's the "keep it simple" principal.
We can deliver we want to deliver from the outset, with reliability and the results that we want. The technology being there from the outset is important from day one. It will take time for consumers to become educated on how to use features.
People should pay attention that one format - HD DVD - has this in place. The other format [Blu-ray] will undoubtedly get it right. But with HD DVD, those who bought early players don't have to be concerned about whether the future titles that may exploit more of the available features will work on those players. It's a better proposition for the consumers.
PCA: What percentage of the titles you'll be coming out with in the next six months will have connected interactivity on them?
Bell: We haven't made any predictions on interactivity. Transformers will have interactivity features. The bonus materials of DVD - you pretty much let it go, you lose contact with it. Did the consumer watch them or not watch them?
When you invest in the connectivity features, that means that after the title has been purchased by the consumer, there's another touchpoint [for the studio], where we connect back with the consumer.
That can be about promotional and marketing content, it can be a transactional relationship for selling products, or it can be about social networking.
PCA: You mention investment. All of this interactivity is going to cost money to sustain from a studio perspective - and raises the question of how long studios will maintain the communities. For example, you put a disc in your player that's four or five years old - will all of the vaunted connectivity extras and community still be available?
Bell: Life is going to get more complicated and costly, even as it brings these added opportunities for studios to bring their content out in different ways.
It will be common sense: A title issued X years ago where the interest has diminished - you'll move on to supporting more popular titles. You'll have to.