Surround 2004: Preshow Activities Look at Blu-Ray Disc and DVD Awards

Surround 2004: Unlike past years when the annual Surround conference was a standalone event held in Hollywood in December, this year’s edition has been combined with several other related events as part of the Entertainment Media Expo.

Today was registration day where exhibitors arrived early to set up their exhibits and demo rooms. Attendees who arrived early not only got a chance to see the Kodak Theater and the surroundings at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, they also enjoyed some pre-show activities.

A Demo by the Blu-Ray Disc Group
Starting off the day’s events was not only an early registration at 4:00pm but also a complimentary demo of the new Blu-Ray Disc (also known as the “BD Disc”), one of the two competitors (along with the HD-DVD disc) to succeed today’s DVD disc. The promise of these formats is to offer the ability to record and playback High Definition Video content as well as to playback future High Definition Video Discs.

As you can guess from the previous paragraph, we are once again in for a format debate between the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD camps. But this time the lines have shifted a bit. The Blu-Ray camp not only features Sony and Philips (familar partners from the Compact Disc, Super Audio CD and other alliances) but also Panasonic (a staunch backer of DVD Audio in the Hi Rez audio debate) and several other major players (Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi, Pioneer Electronics, Samsung, Sharp, TDK and Thomson).

Today’s demo room featured a prototype player from Philips playing material from a Blu-Ray BD-ROM disc as well as a production Blu-Ray recorder by Sony that is available today in the Japanese market. Apparently that market was viewed as an early target for the new format since Japan has been offering High Definition TV broadcasts for several years longer than the U.S. and has more of an installed base (or so we were told).

Prices are still high with the Sony Blu-Ray recorder/player on display at the show going for $3,000 U.S. and blank Blu-Ray recordable discs going for $30 each. Probably not surprising given the low volumes and newness of the format.

In the room, several demos were on display. One featured the aforementioned Philips Blu-Ray prototype player connected to a large screen Philips LCD monitor/HDTV playing back material at 1080p resolution. Another featured one of Sony’s widely praised video projectors showing High Definition movie trailers and clips from films such as Lawrence of Arabia. In the latter case, the demonstration offered the Blu-Ray image on the right and how the same image would look from a DVD Video.

Not surprisingly, the Blu-Ray image offered significantly better clarity, sharpness and colors. The DVD Video image appeared faded and almost a bit blurred in comparison.

Later in the show, I expect we’ll hear from members of the HD-DVD camp on the virtues of their format as well. I’ll look forward to hearing what they have to say as we enter in to this new format debate.

Availablility in the U.S. Market & Mark Cuban’s View
Turning to the U.S. market, the Blu-Ray folks say that they expect their products to initially appear in the U.S. primarily for recording over-the-air HDTV broadcast content. But there’s still a question as to whether other forms of High Definition content (like pre-recorded High Definition Video Discs as well as Cable and Satellite material) will be copyable or whether they will be copy protected so that copying isn’t allowed. Until these questions are resolved, the Blu-Ray proponents see a slow roll-out of their products in the U.S. market.

The outlook for pre-recorded High Definition Video Discs is even further out. In the Blu-Ray demo room, I was told that we may not see Blu-Ray movie discs until the end of 2005 or early 2006.

This raises some interesting questions in light of the recent comments by HD-Net’s Mark Cuban on his web blog entitled “Blog Maverick”. In his blog on the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD debate, Cuban suggests that if the two camps wait too long, neither format will replace DVD Video. Instead, he envisions high speed, low cost media like hard disks and memory cards filling that role. A controversial, but interesting view on the matter.

Time will tell if the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD folks prevail – or whether Mark Cuban’s view becomes the next generation DVD Video replacement. One thing is for sure, interesting times are ahead on this one!

DVD Awards with Leonard Maltin
Also on the agenda this evening was the presentation of the 7th Annual DVD Awards. The Awards were hosted by film writer and critic Leonard Maltin who guided the event through a series of awards recognizing not the movies themselves but rather the “features unique to the DVD edition” on each disc. This is a very interesting concept and a nice way to give credit to many of the folks “behind the scenes” of today’s DVDs. Here is a list of the award winners judged the best in their category from tongiht’s event:

  • Blockbuster Theatrical Release – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  • Direct Release to DVD – The Lion King 1 1/2
  • Foreign Language DVD – The Ingmar Bergman Collection
  • Special Interest DVD – Apollo 15: Man Must Explore
  • Independent Theatrical Release – American Splendor
  • DVD Content Pioneer Award – Brett Ratner, Director
  • PC Support & DVD-ROM Features – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  • Documentary – Capturing the Friedmans
  • Audio – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  • Video – Pirates of the Carribean
  • Television Series – The Simpsons: The Complete 4th Season
  • Leonard Maltin Award – George Feltenstein, Senior VP, Classic Catalog, Warner Home Video
  • Menu Design – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  • Music Production – The Who: The Kids Are Alright
  • Restoration – Alice in Wonderland: The Masterpiece Edition
  • Multi-Disc Set – Alien Quadrilogy
  • Netflix Viewer’s Choice – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  • Authoring Design – The Lion King: Platinum Edition & Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) [Tie]
  • Special Jury Prize – The Adventures of Indiana Jones: Complete Collection
  • Major Theatrical – Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Best of Show: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)Surround 2004 Starts Tuesday
    The Surround 2004 portion of the event starts tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to seeing – and hearing – what will be in store for us then.