More Thoughts on Native Blu-ray/HD DVD

at Engadget HD picked up my post
about the lack of
native HD DVD/Blu-ray in Media Center today
.  I’ve been reading some of the comments the
post is getting and wanted to add a few thoughts.

First, I’m talking about native
.  This means that it works
without launching an external application, just like playing a DVD or any other video within Media Center. 
PowerDVD and ArcSoft TotalMedia currently launch external applications
for playback, so you don’t have native support for either HD DVD or Blu-ray at
this point.  Media Foundation would be used to do this, much like DirectShow has been used for native DVD playback in Media Center since the start.

Microsoft had planned for native HD DVD support in Windows
Vista, but they dropped that and left it to third parties.  It was my guess
that native HD DVD support would finally ship in Fiji
, but given the downfall of HD
DVD since you can see why I’d question that. 
Even if native HD DVD playback shipped in Fiji, it could very well be
pointless if HD DVD continues its demise.

For native Blu-ray playback within Media Center, a Java
based interactivity layer (called BD-J) would have to be added.  Microsoft hates Java with a passion as many
of us know, so it is unlikely that they would spend time developing native
Blu-ray playback when Java is a requirement.  I’m not saying it can’t be done from a
technical standpoint.  Instead, I’m saying that it is unlikely that
Microsoft will be the one to do it.

There is also additional DRM that would need to be present
in BD+.  HD DVD only needs AACS, which
can technically be supported using Protected Media Path (PMP) that is already present
in Vista.  Yet another thing Microsoft
would have to add that they didn’t plan for and that they don’t agree with in the first place.

Lastly, I think Microsoft had put a ton of thought into HD
DVD remoting to Extenders.  HD DVD uses
HDi (iHD) for interactivity, which Microsoft co-developed with things like
Extenders in mind.  With Blu-ray you would need
Java running remotely in an Extender session is much different from HDi which they had already planned for.

When Microsoft decided to support HD DVD, they did so
because of what it offers the consumer as well as their existing technologies.  The industry move to Blu-ray changes all of that.

I think we will be more dependent of third parties doing the
work, and even then I’m not sure they could get native Blu-ray within Media
Center because of BD+ and BD-J.  PMP doesn’t do BD+, this is key as PMP basically has to be used to provide native playback.  There is much more to native playback support then being able to decode certain video codecs, the content protection and interactvity aspects are huge with both of these formats.


Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360

17 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Native Blu-ray/HD DVD

  1. I’d love to agree with that, but US ISP’s appear to be doing their best to stop that from happening. From bandwidth caps and limits, to the utter lack of bandwidth in general digital distribution in the US still has a way to go.

  2. reply to SH1FT:

    It’s going to be a long time before digitally distributed HD content will be worth while (video/sound equal to HDDVD/Blu). With the amount of compression that is being done it doesn’t really matter that the resolution is technically HD — you might as well watch a DVD on a good upscaling player.

  3. This is why I can’t understand why MS didn’t help Toshiba and HD DVD push harder to get Warner to go red. Practical downloads of HD content are too far in the future for most people. The cost associated with the connections required now for easy downloading are too high for most people. MS would have been wiser to spend $1.5 billion on paying off Warner and the others rather than spending the $1.5 billion to buy a search engine company in a fight it’s already lost to Google. If HD DVD dies, the dream of streaming DVD and HD disc content from disc changers to extenders dies with it.

  4. Good post Chris.

    However, I really have a hard time believing that Microsoft would “cut off its nose to spite its face” when it comes to HD optical disk formats and support for Blu-Ray.

    I also have to wonder about the Java concerns. Java is just a programming language, like C, C#, etc. If Microsoft doesn’t like Java APIs, then they can simply get the Blu-Ray standard docs and create their own libraries using whatever language they want.

    I agree that HD-DVD is a better format for Microsoft, considering the investment they put into it. However, at the same time, it was clear that Microsoft was not really 100% committed to HD-DVD. If they were 100% committed, they would have integrated HD-DVD into a SKU of the XBOX 360, instead of “waffling” with an external drive. I even recall several Microsoft events where Steve Ballmer made statements focusing on downloads, and even implying that they could support Blu-Ray on XBOX 360. These statements clearly positioned Microsoft as not 100% behind making HD-DVD the “winner” in the HD optical format wars.

    Regarding HD downloads, George Ou has a very interesting post on HD bitrates and how not all HD content is created equal. That is, that most of today’s HD downloads are no better picture quality than an upscaled DVD, even though they are calling this inferior quality content “High Definition”. All this just adds more confusion for consumers trying to figure out where to spend their money (i.e. optical disks or downloaded content.

  5. I think that’s an interesting viewpoint given Microsoft’s track record. Since when do they accept given standards?

    I also don’t claim to be proficient in programming, but I from a different perspective such a solution would need to be approved by the BDA who overall rejected iHD and went with BD-J in the first place. I don’t think Microsoft will have an easy time getting around this.

  6. > I also have to wonder about the Java concerns. Java is just a programming
    > language, like C, C#, etc. If Microsoft doesn’t like Java APIs, then they can
    > simply get the Blu-Ray standard docs and create their own libraries using whatever
    > language they want.

    Wow. No offense, but how wrong can you get? First of all, Microsoft “doesn’t like” Java because of their legal history with the language, not because of any simple language preference. In fact C# exists because of legal action taken against Microsoft because of their implementation of java. Creating their own libraries to execute the java code on Blu discs without actually licensing java would be blatantly illegal, much more obviously illegal than what caused them to dislike java in the first place. So no, creating their own JRE to avoid using BD-J is absolutely NOT something they can just do.

  7. digitalfreak: That’s a good question, and I have no idea. Might be because Microsoft is limiting people from using it, might be because third parties want to use their own stuff. It can’t be used for Blu-ray because it doesn’t support BD+ or BD-J anywhere in the pipeline.

  8. The bottom line here, is that we are screwed over as consumers. HD-DVD represents the closest thing to a “free” (as in liberty) media format for high-def content. BRD isn’t a consumer friendly format, and exists largely to sell PS3s, or more to the point, the PS3 is being leveraged to sell the BRD format. It is the UMD/Minidisc/Memory Stick strategy all over again, but this is one of the few instances where it might succeed, and only because it is piggy-backed on the PS3 while the adoption rate for a competing format was still in an early adoption stage.

    If online distribution is the future, that is because the media costs are non-existant and there is an opportunity to distribute lower quality, cripled content. This strategy works best for the content makers. A “free” (liberty) format equals big dollars to the hardware manufacturers, it is consumer friendly and would encourage a higher adoption. By releasing a more restrictive format, BRD more favorably supports the content creators like Sony. People didn’t buy Divx because DVD was seen as the better consumer product. If Circut City had released a gaming platform called the PS2, and it was as equally popular as the Sony PS2, and then they decided to make Divx a part of the Circut City PS3, DVDs wouldn’t have been as successful.

    If the Internet ever supports an infrastructure that will allow distribution of media, with the bitrate of BRD or HD-DVD and with the features and extra content, we’re still looking at 10+ years. If HD-DVD was a positive step in the direction of consumers, BRD is certainly a step backwards. I can’t believe how blind some people are to this.

    Shmoe has it right in some ways, Microsoft could have been very influencial in swinging the decision, but they have no real investment in the success of HD-DVD. They were sort of looking at it from the other perspective, HD-DVD sales were going to spur on Xbox 360 sales. When that ecosystem never really matured, there was not incentive to strongly market it. It’s a Chewbacca Defense because they got everyone talking about XBL distribution of media content.

    When the average consumer has been buying DVD’s to play them on their HDTV, and claiming that they have HD, how can I be surprised with this result. The average consumer is an idiot and that is where the advertising dollars are spent. If you are someone who has taken the time to really weigh out the issue, regardless with what you decided, advertising probably didn’t influence your decision, and you would be insignificant to the hordes that will ultimately decide the next generation of media.

  9. Well, HD DVD was mostly dead since inception here in Europe, sales have been very biased to Blu Ray since the start. Indeed the PS3 has much to do with that.

    So regardless which format is better, fact is that HD DVD is irrelevant now.

    So either MS goes fully digital downloads or they have to support Blu-Ray in the end to keep Mediacenter a viable platform.

    And with fully digital downloads: I do not see this happening soon. Bandwidth is there at least here in the Netherlands (we have almost the highest broadband penetration of the world, most people have access to bandwiths from at least 4 and up to 20 megabit, soon to be more), but digital download of movies (other than via P2P) is almost nonexistent here.
    There is simply no supply, no one selling HD content via official download channels here.

    Please note: I very specifically do not use the words legal downloads/illegal downloads as downloading via P2P is legal here in the Netherlands, even if you do not own the original. Only uploading is illegal.

  10. With today’s announcement from Toshiba officially killing off HD-DVD the format war is effectively over. Whilst network streamed HD content is almost certainly the future, it’s still several (read 5-10) years off in real terms and not supporting Blu-Ray in the meantime is a potential application killer.

    Given the reliance on Java it’s unlikely to be native, and certainly not in Fiji, so I think the best we can hope for in the medium term is to smooth the user experience when hooking to a 3rd party product like PowerDVD. The functionality is already there, it just needs to be prettied up a bit.

  11. It doesn’t matter how much you thought HD-DVD is better – IT’S DEAD! Now you can bitch and moan about how terrible BD’s or BD-J’S are or you can get off your ass and learn how to use it with your HD content like I am. BTW – DVD even upscaled cannot display a better picture than even Lite HD partly because of how little room there is on a DVD for video and sound and partly because of how it is captured – progressive chips – Enhanced imaging processors – all things considerd when shooting a Film – Documentary or TV Spots and such.

  12. B-man: Your post is the classic definition of Fanboyism. This post, and most of the comments have nothing to do with what format is “better.” The point is about support within Media Center for the format that won (Blu-ray).

  13. you don’t get it! – but don’t let me stop you. microsoft can’t be expected to be creative or on top of technology – they just buy it when some kid makes it out of necessity. but why should you embrace bd when your still mad about the hd-dvd you bought! take it back! and get win-bd it plays them just fine! if you have any real significant questions – ask me – i own a hd production company creating bd’s and could shed some light! don’t be mad – some of us are really enjoying bd. b-man

  14. Huh?

    I own just about as many BDs as HD DVD’s.  I own both players.  Again, this post is not about which format is better.  If you had read the post you would see it is about support within an application.  Does it make sense and how Microsoft would go about adding support.  It has nothing to do with HD DVD being better than Blu-ray, it has nothing to do with Blu-ray being better than HD DVD.

    I’m glad you own a BD production company, but please go back and read the posts you are replying too.

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