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A bit more on the first impressions of the Sony Blu-Ray player.

The thing is heavy... this ain't a regular ol' DVD player, there's a bunch more stuff in here, including a fan on the back. It's a pretty quiet fan, but it's there nonetheless. There's the usual plethora of connections for a high-end DVD player including HDMI and optical/coax audio out, but there's also an ethernet connection for hooking up to the network and a USB connection on the back specifically designed for a memory stick for BD-Live content.

I haven't done anything with BD-Live. I know it's the Blu-Ray 2.0 specification, and I need to upgrade the firmware for the player to be compatible, but it's designed for that. And really, I don't think there are any discs that are out with BD-Live content yet anyway.

And it's got a Java sticker on the back. Yes indeed, there's a computer inside that runs Java natively. As it turns out, Blu-Ray uses Java as its native language.

Okay, that's not really a huge departure from a DVD player. Inside a DVD is a virtual machine that is actually programmed by authoring the DVD. The virtual machine is fairly simple in context, while the virtual machine for a Blu-Ray disc is significantly more complex.

Right now, I have the ability to author simple blu-ray discs. I don't have a burner yet, but they're not that far off: the new generation of BR-E burners is available and dropping in price; they're about 25% of the price they were a year ago. The media's still spendy, but it will be dropping.

As for operation: so far it's been pretty straightforward. Drop in a disc, and it brings you right to the blu-ray menu just like a DVD player. Without a disc in however, it allows you to play stuff that's stored on the USB thumb drive. dropped a 1G thumb drive in last night; depending on how big of a drive it will recognize, I might upgrade it later and be able to but a bunch of music and streaming media on it, though a centrally located media server is probably a better solution. I'm more intrigued as to whether I can play any files from Darthcam on the Blu-Ray player without having to burn them to a blu-ray disc.

The player also has a true 24P mode that forces the HDMI output to 24 FPS progressive scan over the 60i versions that are usual. The idea is that it's closer to the true movie theater experience, and it is a bit higher bandwidth. I can't tell the difference with my system so far, so I'm not really sure if it matters that much-- maybe if you had a really high-end TV it would show.

And yes, the Blu-Ray remote also controls the fake Sony TV. At least turning it on and off.

Nifty stuff: the Blu-Ray menus are a little different. There are two different menus that you can pull up while you are playing a movie. One pauses the playback, and it's a lot like the top menu of a DVD, where the second type is more of a pop-up menu that allows you to change settings (such as language, subtitles, etc.) while the movie is playing. I assume that each disc does things differently and what is actually on the menus might be different, but it's definitely richer than DVD content, and really needs more exploration.

I have yet to try a regular DVD in the player, but the upconversion is something that I already researched when looking at the player, and I'm not expecting any surprises; it's more discovering how the menus and buttons operate.

There are also more buttons that I don't know the purpose of yet, including four buttons that are colored red, blue, yellow, and green. Maybe there's a BR-Twister format coming out and you need these for playing; I noticed these same color buttons on my set-top DTV tuner, but not on the big-ass HDTV. I'm sure that there will be some explanation for them in the future, and quite possibly even in the woefully inadequate manual.

I still don't think that Blu-Ray is anything but a studio distribution format, and that part of the architecture of the discs is intended to enforce that. Indie houses that can't afford the expensive authoring software with the copy-protection encryption built in won't be able to create a master for duplication and will be relegated to one-off burns.

The disc itself is a convenience for content, much like a DVD. Frankly, for most consumers, a DVD is entirely adequate; I figure it's an 80-20 split. Eventually there may be bigger and better things for Blu-Ray, but for the next couple of years it's unlikely to be a huge consumer item. My feeling is that online-delivered HD content is going to be king for a lot of stuff when there's an iTunes/HD or a YouTube/HD kind of web presence. If Apple TV was HD, it would go a long, long way.

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