New Blu-ray Features Freeze Older Players; Updates Coming

With the next wave of interactive features having been added to 20th Century-Fox's latest Blu-Ray Disc releases, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Day After Tomorrow, there was always a certain level of anticipation that some existing Blu-ray consoles would have trouble, especially the first-generation editions. Surprisingly, it's the second generation which is seeing some early problems, with reports from owners of Samsung's BD-P1200 that they can't play either of these titles.

"You know, this really sucks...how much did we pay for the freaking things?" asked one AVS Forum member on Tuesday. "It's bad enough you have to choose sides to play certain movies, but now some don't even work."

Reports from other AVS Forum users show many BD-P1200s don't play the F4 sequel at all, while earlier first-generation BD-P1000 models valiantly make the attempt - taking forever to load and sputtering generally through the first half-hour of playback, before freezing. Owners of LG's original dual-format BH-100 console also report no playback, but its interactivity support was always known to be lacking anyway, especially for HD DVD.

While some Sony PlayStation 3 owners have also reported problems, expert owners point the latest system firmware already available should correct them.

In a statement yesterday to Video Business, Fox' senior VP of communications, Steve Feldstein, acknowledged the issue but said the solution rests with the hardware manufacturers. Feldstein urged that console owners lobby those companies, implying some kind of mass movement.

In anticipation of such movement, apparently, both affected manufacturers are acting. Spokespersons for both LG and Samsung told Hi-Def Digest they would have firmware fixes within the next few weeks, while some Samsung owners report being told by its customer support personnel a fix may be available next week, though at least one other Samsung owner was told the company had no absolute timetable.

Users of Cyberlink's PowerDVD player for Windows have also reported problems with these titles, and have been advised to upgrade their software. However as of today, many of those users remain perplexed.

What exactly is the problem, and could it become widespread? The initial lack of reports from any other Blu-ray brand appear hopeful, though there may yet be implementation problems which manufacturers may need to take into account.

While some expert owners at first suspected Blu-ray's BDMV authoring mode, which has advanced features such as overlaid menus and alternate audio tracks, suspicion now centers on Fox's implementation of Blu-ray's BD-J interactivity layer and its BD+ copy protection - specifically, on how both may be used together.

Although both categories have always been part of the Blu-ray specification, they have actually been evolving while the first generation of high-def discs were already being sold, and the first-generation consoles being distributed.

Supposedly, if a later generation disc with BD+ protection was to be inserted in a console with earlier-generation support or no support, or that needed to have a firmware upgrade to support it, the older firmware would recognize that fact and warn the owner in plain English on screen. That's not what's happening in any of the cases reported to user forums.

While that would appear to cast the spotlight on BD-J as the likely culprit, some PowerDVD users who have updated their software as advised and who still have problems are suspecting their BD-ROM drives. Meanwhile, many users of the very first Blu-ray players made available early last year report no problems whatsoever with these or any other titles.

As one member of the Hi-Def Forum put it, "I have no idea how these AACS/BD+ thingies work...Why should I? As a customer, I just want a working product!"

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