The Blu-Ray Festival offered great insights into the format’s future

Over the past few days we spent time in Hollywood at the exclusive Blu-Ray Festival press event where we had the chance to see and experience many new developments in the Blu-Ray camp first handedly. As you can see from the most recent news upates, one of the highlights was Panasonic’s unveiling of their next generation Blu-Ray player which offers truly noticeably improvements in the presentation quality. But apart from the hardware, we also had the chance to get a look at a number of upcoming Blu-Ray titles the studios have been working on.

Our visit to the 20th Century Fox lot for example allowed us to take a first hand look at titles such as the scifi thriller Sunshine which will be the studio’s – and most likely the format’s – first Blu-Ray disc with picture-in-picture video commentary. But it also includes some other cool features such as audio mixing allowing you to listen to the movie and the commentary track at the same time, and many featurettes and interactive games. The disc is scheduled for a January 8 release so keep your eyes open.

Picture-in-picture requires BD-J 1.1 player compatibility which some of the older player models do not offer. For those players the video commentary segments will still be available, accessible in featurette form. The good news for all you Playstation 3 owners out there is that the console will receive a firmware upgrade which will make it BD-J 1.1 compatible and allow for use of Blu-Ray’s exciting new features. No official date for the firmware upgrade has been announced yet but look for it in the weeks to come. Incidentally, from what we have been able to gather at the event, the PS3 will eventually also receive a firmware upgrade to take it to BD-J 2.0 level, making it compliant with the full Blu-Ray specs. Clearly the PS3 is the most forward-looking of all Blu-Ray players which will undoubtedly please the millions of owners around the country.

We also had the chance to take a closer look at I, Robot at the Fox visit. The film looks incredible and the disc will feature such a wealth of bonus materials that it will boggle the mind. In fact, Fox has decided to integrate all the little segments and featurettes in real-time context-sensitive menus that can be easily called up during playback of the movie because it would have been almost impossible to list them all in a separate menu. So, depending on the scene you are watching, the featurettes you will be offered will vary. How cool is that? No release date has been scheduled for “I, Robot” yet but look for it sometime in 2008.

Next up was Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day which also offered a number of cool features, including some great interactive features. Producer Van Lyng was once again at work on this title and did his best to not only gather meaningful materials but to also present them in a great way that meshes nicely with the film’s theme in general.

Sony Pictures also showed some interesting material, such as the upcoming Shakira concert video from Sony Music and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.. Both look phenomenal and fans will be pleased to hear the “Close Encounters” will look just like the film used to look. Although the film has been cleaned up it was great to see that the transfer has not been sent through some artificial beautifying process. As a result you will see the film with all its original film grain intact, which gave the film a bit if a gritty look to begin with.

Disney is getting ready for the launch of Cars and Ratatouille on Blu-Ray and hosted a great party for the occasion. Featuring celebrity guests such as Pixar’s own John Lasseter and Brad Bird as well as John Ratzenberger, Brian Dennehy and Cheech Marin, the party was culinary themed, offering some of the best party food we have ever feasted on. However I would be remiss if I wouldn’t mention that the high definition versions of these two Pixar films look absolutely stunning. The sharpness and level of detail is absolutely beautiful giving the picture a sparkling brilliance that leaps off the screen. Clearly these will be must-have discs for any Blu-Ray owner when they become available next week. Fans will also be pleased to hear the A Nightmare Before Christmas has just entered the production pipeline at Disney, so look for that animated jewel sometime in the middle to fall of next year.

Blu-Ray is riding high despite the blow that Paramount dealt the format a few weeks ago. Still easily outselling the rival camp by 2 to 1, it is easy to see the gap widening. Working strongly on improved hardware you can tell that the studios are also extremely eager to make use of the format’s full capabilities. Clearly we will see exciting things from the Blu-Ray studios in the future and the excitement they have is truly infectious.

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