Up to this point getting Blu-ray discs out to the masses has been more than a little difficult. That’s probably putting it mildly. And getting them out to anything less than the masses--that is, authoring, replicating, licensing, and delivering midlist titles on a sub-Hollywood scale--has been next to impossible.
Astronomical AACS licensing fees aside, there have been premastering obstacles as well as obstacles that prevented the creation of a replicated master for smaller projects. Thankfully, the biggest challenge--reducing AACS fees--has been fairly well resolved. Now we can address the other issues.
Let’s take a look at some of the basic mechanics. There are two different pathways to making a Blu-ray project, and the pathway that is most associated with affordable desktop authoring is the pathway that gets you to a Blu-ray Recordable disc. "That’s the simplest way to get into the Blu-ray authoring process," according to Bruce Nazarian, president, of the IDMA. It is a simpler form of authoring than Hollywood features, but at least it does allow you to take high definition video and get it to a Blu-ray Disc that can be played on a player. "That path does not take you all the way to replication if you want to publish a commercial project, or if you want to publish a project on more than a couple of hundred discs in a cost effective way."
One of the factors standing in the way has been a dearth of affordable tools available that allows creation of a replicatable master. Adobe Encore is a mainstream pro/prosumer tool that has offered Blu-ray authoring for a couple years now, but you can’t use it to make a BD-CMF(Blu-ray Cutting Master Format), which is a critical part of the equation if you want to publish. From there, it's on to higher-end, higher-cost, higher-complexity solutions such as Sonic BD Author and Sony Blu-print, which are beyond the scope of the production house that wants to branch out into Blu-ray.
Rivergate's Blu-Streak Premaster 1.0 was created to take down the blockade in the workflow. For $349, it will allow you to take an Adobe Encore-authored project that was authored correctly for replication and it will convert the finished project into the BD-CMF required by replicators. Rivergate recently announced compatibility with the new version of Apple Final Cut Studio, which features modest Blu-ray support. "It sounds like a small thing until you realize it was the huge missing link between those who wanted to publish and the ability to get published," says Nazarian.
BluStreak Premaster 1.0 allows the correct formatting of Blu-ray output from any authoring application for large-scale manufacturing or replication, including full AACS copy protection support. Here’s a rundown of what BluStreak does:
• Formats Blu-ray output for commercial manufacturing
• Straightforward, reliable operation
• Accepts input from any authoring application
• Supports AACS & dual-layer (BD-50) format
• Automatic checksum generation to ensure data integrity
• Also burns playable discs to both BD and DVD media
Does the release of the new Final Cut Studio plus BluStreak 1.0 mean that the two together can produce a professional-level Blu-ray title for mass distribution? Yes and no. Larry Applegate, Rivergate President, says: "Final Cut 7 and Compressor 3.5 can create a legal BDMV folder, but you are limited to a single audio stream and no real support for even a single subtitle stream. You can attach subtitle text to Final Cut markers, but that is an unworkable solution in a real production environment."
Instead, the Apple release--significantly, the second full rev of the suite that has included no changes whatsoever to its primary disc authoring tool, DVD Studio Pro--is targeted at the million-plus registered Final Cut Pro users who either have much less lofty Blu-ray authoring expectations, or will continue to look elsewhere to fulfill them (e.g., using Encore for Mac). Still, Applegate says, "This is certainly a welcome and long-overdue capability." The real answer , according to Applegate, is that if you want to adopt a Mac-only workflow, you must use Adobe Encore and Adobe Production Premium. "Encore has a very nice integration with Photoshop and the Adobe encoders. You can also use encoded assets from other encoders from both PC and Mac. Rivergate and the IDMA/DVDA have been busy testing the various encoders for replication compatibility.
For many studios, Encore is an ideal Mac solution for authoring, and the fact that its MPEG-2 and AVC encoders have been found to suitable for replication makes it even more attractive. However, Encore presents another obstacle because its Blu-ray output is limited in key areas, according to Robin Henson, Rivergate Partner and CTO. "The limitation to a single pop-up menu is too restrictive; audio and sub-picture stream selection buttons don't function correctly; and resume playback/dismiss pop-up buttons are either not available or do not function." (Click here to see a tutorial on how pop-up menus work in Encore.)
What's so cool about pop-up menus anyway? Well, pop-ups allow the viewer to change the audio or subtitle track, see what else is on the disc, etc., without interrupting the movie. "When implemented properly, this is a really cool feature, much more important than the hype that is Java and BD-Live. Pop-ups do not require Java, and in fact discs without Java are faster to load and more compatible across players," Applegate says.
The upcoming BluStreak Premaster 1.1, now in beta testing, is said to tackle these problems head on. "The new version will allow an unlimited number of menus to be designated as pop-up menus, and allow correct behavior to be assigned to buttons. It will then automatically rewrite the disc's command set prior to output, so that the resulting disc's menus behave as the author intended," Henson explains.
For users not requiring replication, at least for their first releases, Rivergate offers BluStreak Burner at $129. BluStreak Burner 1.1 Beta includes all of the same Encore Enhancements that are available in BluStreak Premaster 1.1 Beta. The BluStreak 1.1 Beta upgrades are free to 1.0 users.
It sounds like everyone is on the right track, but is it all too little too late to usher in Blu-ray's long-awaited push into a broader and more diversified production market? Let’s hope not. As Media-Tech tries its best to hook up with replicators to offer a unified front when it comes to developing the Blu-ray market, many sources say it is now Sony’s job, on the replication side, to open up the playing field before it’s too late. The telltale selling season is right around the corner--stay tuned for this Christmas to see how the next stage of Blu-ray's long march to the mainstream will play out.
Debbie Galante Block is a freelance writer based in Mahopac, New York. false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE