128GB Blu-ray Disc format slated for release

Blu-ray group says new commercial, consumer disc formats coming within months

By Lucas Mearian
The Blu-ray Disc Association this week announced plans to release a new commercial high-definition disc format that will offer up to 128GB of write-once capacity within months.The association also said it plans to release a rewritable disc format for consumers that will support up to 100GB of data, or twice the Blu-ray capacity available today.

The specifications for the BDXL (High Capacity Recordable and Rewritable discs) format for commercial use and IH-BD (Intra-Hybrid discs) for consumers are expected in the next few months, the Blu-ray Disc Association stated in a press release posted on its website.

The BDXL specification is targeted at filling the data archiving needs of broadcasting, medical and document imaging companies.

Discs meeting the specs will have write-once, read many (WORM) options with 128GB capacity discs and rewritable capability on 100GB discs. A consumer version of BDXL will be offered particularly in those regions where BD recorders have achieved broad consumer acceptance, the association added.

Today’s Blu-ray discs come with single or dual recording layers with 25GB or 50GB capacity, respectively. The new formats will have three to four recordable layers.

“Professional industries have expressed a desire to find optical disc solutions that enable them to transition away from magnetic media for their archiving needs,” said Victor Matsuda, Blu-ray Disc Association Global Promotions Committee chair, in a statement. “Leveraging Blu-ray Disc to meet this need provides professional enterprises with a compact, stable and long term solution for archiving large amounts of sensitive data, video and graphic images using a proven and widely accepted optical technology.”

The IH-BD disc discs will incorporate a single BD-ROM layer and a single BD-RE layer, which allows a user to view, but not overwrite, data while providing the ability to include relevant personal data on the same physical disc.

‘This allows for consumer specific applications where combining published content with related user data on a convenient, single volume is desirable,” the association said.

Because both BDXL and IH-BD are specially designed formats with specific market segments in mind, newly-designed hardware is required to play back or record BDXL or IH-BD media. However, because the new media specifications are extensions of current Blu-ray Disc technology, future BDXL and IH-BD devices can be designed to support existing 25GB and 50GB Blu-ray Discs.



Netflix now shipping instant streaming discs for Wii

By Devindra Hardawar

After announcing that it would support Nintendo’s Wii this past January, Netflix has finally started shipping out instant streaming discs to lucky Wii owners.

E-mail alerts regarding the discs went out today, and Netflix subscribers will start receiving them as early as tomorrow. Just like with Netflix’s Playstation 3 instant streaming offering, subscribers need to request the disc at netflix.com/wii before it gets mailed out.

The Wii is the last gaming system to receive support for Netflix’s instant streaming service. Microsoft was the first to jump on the service for the Xbox 360 in July  2008, and that offering remains the best user interface for instant streaming on a console. PS3 users finally gained access to it in late 2009.

We don’t know much about what Netflix’s user interface will look like on the Wii, aside from what we can tell in the tiny screenshot above. It’ll likely have support for browsing with the Wii remote, and I’m hoping that there’s also some interesting gesture integration for browsing your Netflix queue. I’m also hoping that the interface is less clunky than the PS3’s instant streaming interface, which is often slow and a chore to use.

Unlike the Xbox 360 or PS3, the Wii won’t be able to play high-definition streaming content. That will have to be something reserved for a next-generation Wii console — something that many hope to see Nintendo announce soon.

Next Story:
Previous Story:


Ferrari 458 Italia in Transformers 3

It’s a nice looking car, it doesn’t matter if they put it in a movie or not.

It seems like the Ferrari 458 Italia will have to learn Autobot as it will be a part of their ranks in Transformers 3. Michael Bay, the director of the Transformers series, posts on his blog that he’s decided to go Italian for the next installment of the saga, by introducing the Ferrari 458 Italia as a new character in the movie.

We’re wondering how well will it fit between the American, GM branded Autobots. One thins is sure however. It will be the fastest of the bunch. The Ferrari 458 Italia is powered by a 4.5-liter V8 mid-mounted engine that sends 570 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Fitted with a 7-speed dual-clutch Formula 1 style transmission, the Ferrari 458 Italia can top 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of 202 mph.

Michael Bay got the idea for the new character while he was attending a fund raiser held by Ferrari for building a hospital in Haiti.

[Source: Michael Bay]


Hollywood scripting getting a multimedia rewrite

Built to promote the 2008 film, ‘Watchmen,’ the interactive, multi-media project ‘6 Minutes to Midnight’ was a form of a new storytelling genre known as transmedia entertainment.   (Credit: Fourth Wall Studios)

by Daniel Terdiman

In Hollywood, everyone knows that movies are king. Television makes money, and video games are a fantastic way to extend a franchise, but movies get the prestige. Vanity Fair doesn’t have an annual Emmys party.

That’s been the way it is for years, but the fault lines under the entertainment industry are shifting rapidly in favor of a more cohesive and multimedia approach to storytelling, and those who refuse to adapt may well be victims of a major shake-up in the way things work.

The protagonist in this story? A relatively new and increasingly popular concept called transmedia storytelling, which at its most basic and fundamental means telling stories across a variety of kinds of media and letting people interact in the ways that are most comfortable to them.

And while the early rounds of the transmedia revolution have consisted of an increasing number of video game and comic book projects being built up around popular films, the next stage is revolving around creative people designing multimedia stories from the ground up in which movies, video games, Web sites, smart phone applications, comic books, and other media are equal partners and all elements of a complete story.

That’s the vision, at least, of a slew of new transmedia production companies. These are firms founded by people with rich backgrounds in entertainment who believe that there are better opportunities than ever before to get audiences actively involved on many levels and who think that the broad stories that come out of projects like this are altogether more interesting.

Transmedia, said Jordan Weisman, a founder of Smith & Tinker, one of the start-ups, is “when you are taking a single story and distributing components of that single story through a wide array of media. When you collect those pieces of the media, it tells the [whole] story…When [you have] a text message and a video clip on YouTube, and a toy, or even a movie, when those things add up to a larger single story, that’s a transmedia experience.”

Transmedia for ‘Watchmen’ fans
A year ago, as the world was being primed by Warner Bros. for the imminent release of its big-budget adaptation of “Watchmen,” fans of the graphic novel and those excited for the movie were invited into the story’s world through an online project called “6 Minutes to Midnight.”

There, fans were treated to a 10-minute interactive trailer for the film, as well as to a series of Rorschach tests that would bring them inside the “Watchmen” story and reveal exclusive content unavailable to the public at large. Those diving into the site were encouraged to communicate with “Watchmen” characters by phone and over the Web.

This is transmedia entertainment. So, too, was “Why so Serious,” a project built around the release of the mega-hit “The Dark Knight.” The movie came out in 2008, but a year before, with the launch of the film’s Web site, astute fans were presented with different directions they could go in order to dive into what appeared to be an alternate-reality game built around the film’s marketing.

“Clicking on the bat symbol [on the film’s site] brought a user to the [fictional] Harvey Dent campaign website, which simply contained [actor] Aaron Eckart’s picture and the slogan, ‘I believe in Harvey Dent,’ recalled the blog Asmedia. “Meanwhile, in California, a comic book [store] employee reported defaced Joker cards appearing in his shop with ‘I believe in Harvey Dent too! Hahahah!’ stamped all over them. Sure enough, when users went to ibelieveinharverydenttoo.com, they found a Jokerized Harvey Dent image. Participants typed in their email address and received their first exposure to Heath Ledger’s Joker.”

And on it went, a multifaceted experience built around “The Dark Knight” that would get millions of people involved in the world of the film, long before it ever hit a silver screen.

The fourth wall
In the theater, there is a term called “the fourth wall,” which is the imaginary boundary separating the audience from the actors. And to Weisman, transmedia storytelling is all about eroding that barrier. “The characters…communicate with you through all the same mechanisms that your real life communicates with you,” Weisman said, “through a billboard on the street, through a newspaper advertisement, through email, and Web sites, all mechanisms where you gain information about the real world and friends. Now, the characters are using the same mechanisms.”

For Elan Lee, like Weisman a former executive at 42 Entertainment, the pioneers of the alternate-reality game genre, the fourth wall is more than just a concept. It’s also the basis for a company.

Indeed, Lee’s new firm–which designed “6 Minutes to Midnight,” as well as “Eagle Eye: Free Fall,” a transmedia project tied to the movie “Eagle Eye,” and which has several Hollywood projects currently in the works–is called Fourth Wall Studios.

To Lee, transmedia storytelling is simply an extension of the kinds of entertainment we’re used to onto a much broader canvas. “Imagine your favorite movie as a series of scenes,” Lee said. “The transmedia version of that would tell the same story, just with each scene on a different form of media.”

In this picture, Lee explained, scene one from a transmedia story is on TV. The next minute, scene two, your cell phone rings, and a character from the TV is on the other end of the line. And in scene three, an e-mail comes in from that character, tying it all together. “It’s just using your life as the focal piece as the new form of storytelling,” Lee said.

And Hollywood is definitely taking notice.

At Blacklight Transmedia, a company launched six months ago by several veteran Hollywood executives, the model is creative cohesion. According to partner Zak Kadison, Blacklight is the world’s first company capable of crafting, from the ground up, a transmedia experience that includes a feature film, a video game, a comic book, and more and has 25 such projects in the works and a rare “first-look” deal with Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s production company. And instead of the game and the comic book being based on the movie, the story begins and ends with components of all the different media.

Fourth Wall, too, is writing the scripts for its film-oriented projects, said Lee, and consistently, the company is being brought into the picture earlier and earlier.

You might think that Hollywood would resist a paradigm shift like this, but that seems not to be the case, even as building film projects seems to also mean working on the formerly ancillary games, comic books and other media at the same time. “All of the major studios absolutely get transmedia storytelling,” Kadison said, “and have been eager to work with us.”

Excited but cautious
Clearly, there is a lot of energy around transmedia in Hollywood these days. And in a risk-averse town famous for mirroring successful projects, as more studios launch their own versions of “6 Minutes to Midnight” or “Why so Serious,” there’s little doubt the genre will pick up steam.

But some would like to see transmedia storytelling stand on its own, without big corporate backers. And that was one of the biggest discussion topics at Transmedia/Hollywood, a one-day symposium put together recently by the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Televsion and USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and School of Cinematic Arts.

“A number of people in production companies see this as a new and unique media platform,” said Denise Mann, a co-organizer of the symposium. “But the paradox from my vantage point is that it’s hard to see how these can function in the world outside their role as promotions because in order to get the big budgets, you need a big” partner.

Of course, as an academic, Mann brings a historical perspective to the medium. She said that in its earliest forms, transmedia entertainment can be traced back to Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” to the 1969 “Paul is Dead” conspiracy or, more recently, to the 1999 film “The Blair Witch Project.”

Other projects that most Transmedia experts consider part of the genre include the ABC show “Lost” and the “Matrix” films, both of which had multimedia elements that engaged large numbers of fans.

But because of the high costs of putting together a multimedia project that can involve thousands, or millions, Mann worries that the genre is too dependent on deep-pocketed benefactors interested in it solely for promotional purposes.

Still, Mann said that the symposium’s packed house demonstrated that transmedia storytelling “seems to have captured the imagination of a lot of people who are interested in what’s the bleeding edge of new entertainment today.”

But while there have been some big transmedia marketing successes, Mann said, the genre needs to be firmly in the hands of storytellers if the projects are to continue to be strong enough to attract big audiences. Those storytellers, she added, need to be in the mix from the get-go of a new project, so that when someone is conceiving of a film, they’re also talking about how the story will spread out to the game, the comic, the alternate-reality game and the Web.

And that, of course, is what companies like Blacklight Transmedia, as well as Lee’s Fourth Wall and Weisman’s Smith & Tinker are all about. And it seems like, after a little bit of educating, Hollywood is listening.

“The first six months of our business has been a lot of education of Hollywood studios, the agencies, [and] the creative talent,” Kadison said. But the reality is that once the creative talent and the agencies have seen this concept realized, as evidenced by some of the projects we’ve developed…they really did get it, and it hasn’t been a problem convincing people of the benefit of this approach.”

Or, as Lee put it, “It’s gotten a lot easier lately. Hollywood’s in trouble. They’re watching their revenues dwindle [in the face of] competition like Web sites and video games, Twitter, Facebook, and Xbox. It’s [Hollywood’s] own special brand of insanity to run away from that stuff scared. What has become much easier lately is to get them to embrace that stuff. Instead of running away scared, embrace it.”


Home 3-D: Here, or Hype?

Home 3-D: To watch most 3-D televisions, you’ll need battery-powered “shutter” glasses, such as these from Panasonic.   Credit: Panasonic

New 3-D devices are coming to stores, but widespread adoption may not be so fast.

By Kristina Grifantini

At an event in Boston yesterday, Panasonic demoed its latest 3-D product: a 50-inch, high-definition 3-D plasma-screen TV, which goes on sale next month for about $2,499. Donning a $150 pair of glasses in the darkened room, I watched scenes of waterfalls and hiking in 3-D that was clearer and crisper than anything I’ve seen in theaters. Without providing specific figures, Panasonic says it sold out of other 3-D TVs in the U.S. during the first week of sales.

Announcements from Panasonic and other major manufacturers, including Mitsubishi, Sony, Philips, and Toshiba, mean that consumers will soon be able to buy many different 3-D products: TVs, Blu-ray players, video games, even cameras and camcorders. A new Blu-ray standard for 3-D should also make it easier for companies to produce 3-D content that will play on all 3-D TVs.

“About 8 percent of the consumer televisions sold in the United States this year will be 3-D; next year that number will more than double,” says Robert Perry, senior vice president, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company. Given that it took about eight years for high-definition television to catch on, Perry predicts that it “will take about four to five years for one half of all televisions sold in the United States to have 3-D capability. Then it will ramp up very quickly after that.”

Manufacturers hope that the popularity of 3-D movies can help push the technology into the home. “There is a heightened awareness of 3-D,” says Jonas Tanenbaum, vice president of marketing for LCD and LED TVs at Samsung, which this year is offering 15 3-D TV models on LED and plasma, ranging from $1,699 to $5,000.

However, some experts are more skeptical about the prospects for widespread adoption.

Research firm DisplaySearch predicts that there will be 1.2 million 3-D-capable TVs shipped this year and over four million next year, compared to the 200,000 shipped in 2009. Jennifer Colegrove, DisplaySearch’s director of display technologies, says that all of these 3-D TVs–which can be switched to a regular 2-D mode–will mainly be used for 2-D viewing for now. “Most people who buy a 3-D-ready TV will not really watch it,” she says. One drawback, Colegrove, says, is that some 3-D TVs don’t work well under fluorescent or halogen lighting (the light interferes with the infrared emitter that communicates between the TV and 3-D glasses).

Article Continues – http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/24842/?a=f

One pair of 3D glasses to rule them all

There is currently no standard for 3D glasses shipped with 3D TVs.  (Credit: Erica Ogg/CNET)

by Erica Ogg

The good news about the 3D TVs coming out this spring and summer is that they’ll come packed with two pairs of 3D lenses. The bad news? Those plastic glasses work only with the brand of TV with which they’re shipped.

That means that if you buy a Panasonic 3D TV, you can’t use the accompanying lenses with your neighbor’s Sony 3D TV, should you want to get together to watch the World Cup in 3D this summer. That’s because each TV brand has a sensor that picks up a signal from the corresponding brand of glasses.

If that seems backwards, it’s because it is. But it’s also the sign of a new technology that hasn’t yet worked out all of its kinks. Thankfully, the burgeoning 3D industry knows that this is a shortcoming and is concocting a fix.

One company that makes 3D eyewear, XpanD, has staked its claim to be the vendor of choice for brand-agnostic 3D glasses. The company has been manufacturing 3D glasses for movie theaters in Europe and Asia for years, and it is now moving to make the glasses work for people’s homes as well.

XpanD has been contracted to produce the lenses that will ship with Panasonic and Vizio’s 3D sets, but the company is also aiming more broadly: to be the provider of one pair of glasses that people buy once and use everywhere. XpanD’s glasses will be available for between $125 and $150, starting June 1 at retailers such as Best Buy and Sears.

“The goal of the glasses is to work with every (size of) 3D display, from laptops to cinema,” said Ami Dror, XpanD’s chief strategy officer.

Dror says that would include all 3D televisions using infrared to communicate between the TV and the active-shutter 3D glasses. (“Active” glasses have battery-powered shuttering to allow the eyes to see 3D images, while “passive” glasses are the polarized lenses you get at the movie theater.) All major manufacturers–such as Sony, Samsung Electronics, and Panasonic–and most 3D-capable computer monitors and laptop screens–which gamers are expected to gravitate toward–use active-shutter glasses.

Dror anticipates the glasses being for sale in theaters or in retail stores alongside 3D displays. The way he sees it, people will want the option to choose their own glasses, especially if 3D-watching parties become popular.

Besides consumers being limited in how and when they can use their 3D glasses, XpanD believes that retailers can’t be expected to stock glasses from every possible manufacturer on their shelves.

“At Best Buy, they carry 15, 20 models of TVs,” Dror said. “We can’t expect them to carry 15 types of 3D glasses. That doesn’t make sense.”

The competition
Gunnar Optiks, which makes glasses that reduce eyestrain induced by staring at a computer screen all day, has also said it plans to make universal 3D glasses. It’s a great idea, but it’s unclear that the technology has actually been tested yet. (Until CNET Labs gives them a spin, we’ll reserve judgment.) In any case, what XpanD and Gunnar Optiks are trying to do is a necessary step in the evolution, if 3D is going to move from the cinema to the couch.

“It’s great that XpanD wants to be the vendor of choice for universal 3D glasses,” said David Wertheimer, CEO and executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California. “But it’s an easy thing to say and a harder thing to get all the people [to] work together.”

That’s where the Consumer Electronics Association comes in. The industry trade group is acting as referee between competing brands to agree on a standard for 3D eyewear. Representatives from TV makers, cable and broadcasting companies, eyewear manufacturers, and others together are reviewing proposals for standards and hashing out what that standard should be–and which companies will eventually make the standard glasses. Although they’ve been officially meeting for several months, the idea first came up last year.

“It was just evident to everybody that glasses were going to be a part of this ecosystem, and noninteroperable glasses would hamper the overall growth of the market,” said Brian Markwalter, vice president of technology and standards for the CEA.

They’re currently studying making active-shutter glasses the default technology, which are the most popular right now with TV makers. But there are details still to be worked out, such as the effects of competing with other infrared devices already in the living room, including TV remote controls.

Markwalter said the group meets every two weeks and that it understands the urgency, since these TVs are already seeping out into the market.

“They do feel the pressure of the marketplace,” he said. “The schedule they had talked about is trying to at least have it whittled down to a basic approach by May or June. They’re meeting pretty regularly, moving along as aggressively as they can. ”

Until then, 3D TV watching it isn’t going to be a naturally social experience, the way standard 2D TV-watching is now, at least at first, while the likes of Sony and Panasonic race to get the technology to the marketplace. But it will get there eventually, USC’s Wertheimer says.

“As with any new technology, you try to get it to market, and get people to use it and start giving you feedback. All of (the manufacturers) have their own glasses and their own TVs that can only interact together. They do that to take the variables out of the equation, so they control the experience consumers have with the television,” Wertheimer said. “But the natural evolution of 3D TVs over time is for them to have interoperability with the glasses.”


TiVo Introduces New Internet-Connected DVRs

Amy-Mae Elliott

TiVo has updated its offerings, introing two new set-top boxes, the TiVo Premiere and the TiVo Premiere XL, which will finally bring high-definition to the DVR range.

In a nutshell, the web-connected TiVo Premiere boxes offer cable TV, movies on demand (from Netflix, Amazon and Blockbuster) and web videos from YouTube (YouTube). In the coming months, they will also offer music from Pandora (Pandora), along with existing services from the likes of Rhapsody (Rhapsody) (which will also be available to Series 2 and 3 box owners).

In addition, TiVo is not letting the demand for apps pass it by; the boxes will offer access to more than 1,000 apps from FrameChannel with widgets for news, weather, sports, social networking sites and more.

As far as the difference between the two boxes goes, the Premiere has a 320GB harddrive — said to be good for 45 hours of HD storage or 400 standard, while the Premiere XL has 1TB of storage space and boasts 150 hours for HD and more than 1,000 for SD, as well as some THX tech for all kinds of optimal audio and video reproduction claims.

The boxes cost $300 and $500, respectively, and will be on sale in April. Also due soon from TiVo is a Wireless-N Wi-Fi adapter, and an unusual, slide-out QWERTY TiVo remote that will be offered as optional extras.

The idea of bringing the Internet into the living room is becoming more common as of late. Hardware products such as the soon-to-be-released Popbox and Boxee Box are all about getting Internet content on your television, and Yahoo’s Connected TV offering for web-enabled televisions will bring web widgets to the living room. Heck, Samsung has even introduced an app store for televisions.

These products and innovations, along with TiVo’s newest venture, just serve to demonstrate how attached we are to the Internet (Case in point: 13% of viewers were surfing the web during the Olympics’ opening ceremonies).