Photo: Billaday, via Flickr. I think the label says something about Blu-ray being awesome, and don’t stare into the laser, and go buy a PlayStation 3 because you really need one.

During the high-definition wars, your feelings about new higher-capacity storage discs may have ranged from ambivalence to dread to simple disinterest. (Well, that’s how I felt, anyway.) But with Blu-ray triumphant comes this realization: "hey, brain, we’ve suddenly got increasingly-affordable ways of burning high-capacity media!" Drive upgrades on the PC side cost what DVD burners once did, and if you’re hooked up to a TV, the writer can be your player, too. (There’s already a Lite-On internal drive for around US$350, and I expect these prices will plummet as production ramps up.)

That’s burning, anyway — authoring is obviously essential.

Author Blu-ray For 50 Bucks?

Here’s one of your first options, from Blu-ray Kings Sony themselves. Earlier this month at NAB, Sony announced an update to their DVD Architect authoring software; version 5 will support Blu-ray authoring. Authoring features will be "complete with full motion buttons, motion menus, scene selection menus, subtitles and alternate video and audio tracks." Naturally, all of this is integrated with their video editor Vegas.

DVD Architect 5 ships in June.

Sony’s pricing is ridiculously cheap, too: US$50 buys the entire DVD Architect tool, and the upgrade will be free to existing Vegas Pro users. Vegas Pro 8, for the record, is currently US$450 street, compared to US$1300 for Final Cut Studio. Now, in fairness, Final Cut Studio does quite a lot more (3D motion graphics, Compressor batch processing, advanced color tools, and so on). But Sony’s bargain pricing could justify keeping a cheap PC around, especially since Sony’s software is light on system resources.

Of course, the one thing that isn’t cheap is blank Blu-ray discs, which are running about US$20-25 a pop when I last checked. Then again, you can grab a rewritable for $25 if you want to be an early adopter. And I think with these other pieces in place, those astronomical prices won’t remain for long. Ramping up production on Blu-ray — instead of competing with HD-DVD — should mean economies of scale take over. It wasn’t so long ago blank DVDs cost $25, too.

Alternatives: Vegas, Premiere/Encore, Compressor

If you don’t need real authoring with menus and such, your options for just burning video to Blu-ray are more numerous. Vegas Pro 8 supports Blu-ray disc burning even without the DVD Architect update, right from the editor — you just burn a menu-less HD video to disc, which may be more useful to readers here anyway. Apple Compressor and Adobe’s CS3 suite have similar features; Premiere Pro CS3 can output a video to Blu-ray, just as Vegas can, on both Mac and Windows. See Dave Helmly’s blog (from Adobe) for a recent discussion of how to work with Encore, Premiere, and Apple Compressor.

And yes, I imagine complete Apple support can’t be too far off, either, once Blu-ray writers become more popular. (As noted in comments, Apple Compressor supports MPEG2 export for Blu-ray, but DVD Studio Pro doesn’t yet have a complete set of authoring tools for menus and the like.)

Possible Uses

With Blu-ray discs, writers, and software finally becoming available, it shouldn’t be hard to do the math here. We finally have an easy way of writing our high-definition content, and wrapping it up in menus (though not the fanciest of Blu-ray menus unless your day job is at a big disc production house; see below). Sony also suggests making picture slideshows (of very big pictures, evidently) or music compilations (okay, sounds good).

I’ll say this: if you’re investing in a Blu-ray player, especially for a computer, it seems worth holding off for a writer. And consider this an opportunity to turn a PlayStation 3 into a tax write-off.

Side Note: Java Interactivity

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Now the less-awesome news. Part of the Blu-ray spec provides not only greater capacity and higher-quality audio and video, but more interactivity, via a Java virtual machine and a new format called BD-J. It is real Java, written as Java code, if based on the ancient Java 1.3. Even networking capabilities are included. It will go far beyond DVD menu scripting — that is, if you find a way to author BD-J.

The problem is, it’s not clear whether Sony thinks mere mortals should have access to BD-J authoring. (Too bad, as this could be great for installations or distributing richer content.) Sony did show off Ensequence’s On-Q Create software at NAB. It looks … expensive, though. You have to talk to sales to find out how expensive; generally not a good sign. The word "enterprise" also gets mentioned, in regards to Sony’s higher-end Blu-print software. That’s curious, because the word "enterprise" usually doesn’t get bandied around people who work in this kind of production. That’s a word IBM and Microsoft use, not motion graphics people and interactive designers. (Bizarrely, too, the On-Q software itself is written in .NET, not Java.)

Of course, that said, I never really expected BD-J to be anything other than an archaic art practiced by big authoring houses. So I’m not sure why I’m mentioning it at all, except that we like Java because of Processing and Java creator James Gosling likes to talk about how cool Java in Blu-ray is, and Java people like to talk about how uncool it is that they can’t actually code for Blu-ray without giving Sony lots of money.

Big production houses, though, feel free to keep subsidizing our cheap copies of DVD Architect. Oh, and make sure that those Blu-rays we go buy are fun to use.

  • http://wileywiggins.com Wiley

    DVD Studio Pro has been able to author blu-ray for quite some time now.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wiley, I don't believe that's correct. There may be some kind of basic burning capability, and compressor has a Blu-ray compatible MPEG2 preset, but that's not the same as doing real Blu-ray authoring. But as I said, I imagine complete, official support can't be far off given that Blu-ray has emerged victorious.

    Here's an article on Blu-ray encoding and burning (not full authoring with menus, but useful) in Adobe Encore and Apple Compressor: http://blogs.adobe.com/davtechtable/2008/04/apple

    And, of course, for what most of us do, that may be all you need, anyway.

    I forgot to mention Premiere, which added Blu-ray disc support in CS3 (again, simple output not authoring); adding that to the story.

  • http://abstrakt.vade.info vade

    Actually, some of my clients have been burning Blue Ray on the Mac for some time now.. its totally doable.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yes, that's why I link to Apple Compressor, on the Mac, vade.

    But outputting MPEG2 and burning a disc does not mean full-featured authoring with menus and such, and unless I'm missing something, DVD Studio Pro doesn't do full authoring for Blu-ray, only for DVD and (I think, not that it matters any mroe) HD-DVD. I can't find any official docs from Apple on this, anyway.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh, and PS, "it's not far off" means it's not long before you'd want to. If the discs came down just a *few* dollars, if the writers came down just a few dollars, I'd jump for it. I expect player penetration is likely to improve, as well, which would be another important prerequisite (i.e., having someone to buy the things).

    Wonder where Microsoft is with a Blu-ray add-on for Xbox 360? (The HD-DVD was always optional, not standard, anyway, so it'd make sense.)

  • http://doboxrecordings.com Rhythmist

    There's a handful apps that will do Blu-ray authoring right now, but the one thing to really take into consideration here is the player compatibility.

    Blu-ray discs with menus (BDMV and BD-J) need to include AACS copy protection to adhere to the Blu-ray spec, but currently there is no AACS solution for recordable media. So only some players out there will actually play BD-R/RE discs with BDMV or BD-J content on them. And on the other side of the coin, menu-less Blu-ray content (BDAV) is not a mandatory part of the spec. So only some players will play that kind of disc.

    Though if you're just making discs for yourself, this stuff is not a big deal. Just make what works for your player. Stuff I've learned (the hard way), so I thought I'd share.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Rhythmist: ah, interesting. Yeah, I haven't had to deal with that yet. I'm guessing Sony/Ensequence are assuming for the high-end stuff it's getting sent to a duplication house or mastered using non-consumer drives anyway. For DVD Architect, though, obviously that consumer would want to be able to take their recordable and stick it in a drive. I'll contact Sony and see what their word is on this. (It's their software AND format AND they make computer drives and home players and PS3s, so they better have some answers). Maybe the thought is people will tote these from computer to computer; I'd hope those don't require AACS? How's the PS3?

  • http://doboxrecordings.com Rhythmist

    I've had pretty good success playing all types of BD-R/RE content with computer playback software (WinDVD and PowerDVD), but the PS3 (as of system software version 2.10) only did BDAV-type content. This may have changed as they're on version 2.3 now, but I haven't checked.