Does the new Blu-ray Profile 1.1 make existing players obsolete?

As if buying a new HD player wasn't hard enough -- now there is a new standard to consider when purchasing a Blu-ray device.

Yesterday, October 31 2007, was the official end of the "grace period" for Blu-ray manufacturers, after which all Blu-ray players released must comply with the latest standard -- Blu-ray Profile 1.1 (also known as Final Standard Profile and BD-Video Profile 1.1). Of course, that doesn't mean that Profile 1.0 Blu-ray players still can't be sold, and if you walk into your local electronics store over the next few months, you're likely to see both Profile 1.0 and Profile 1.1 Blu-ray players on the shelf. So what's the big difference between Profile 1.0 and Profile 1.1?

Profile 1.0 vs. Profile 1.1
There are several different hardware requirements (see the chart below), but it basically boils down to picture-in-picture functionality. All Blu-ray players up until this point have been Profile 1.0 and have lacked the secondary video and audio decoders necessary to play a smaller video in the corner while also playing the main high-def movie in the background. With the notable exception of the PlayStation 3, Profile 1.0 players cannot be upgraded via firmware to become Profile 1.1 players.

Because Profile 1.0 players lacked this functionality, movie studios have understandably not included picture-in-picture functionality on any current Blu-ray disc. According to High-Def Digest, Fox has announced that it will release its first Profile 1.1-enabled disc, Sunshine, in the first quarter of 2008. And as more Profile 1.1 players become available, we expect more Profile 1.1 discs to be released.

Profile 1.1 vs. Profile 2.0
Despite Profile 1.1 also being known as Final Standard Profile, there's actually still another Blu-ray specification, Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live. The major difference between profiles 1.1 and 2.0 is that Profile 2.0 requires the player has an Internet connection. Although some current Blu-ray players have an Ethernet port, these are strictly for firmware updates and can't be used to access downloadable content.

Again, since Internet connectivity isn't a mandatory feature on current Blu-ray players, there are currently no Internet-enabled Blu-ray discs and none have been announced for the future. Internet connectivity could be used to download additional movie content, download trailers, or enable purchasing movie-related merchandise. Profile 2.0 also increases the mandatory local storage capacity to 1GB, which is presumably to accommodate downloaded content.

Technical hardware requirements

Features Profile 1.0 Profile 1.1 Profile 2.0
Required local storage None 256 MB 1 G
Secondary video decoder Optional Mandatory Mandatory
Secondary audio decoder Optional Mandatory Mandatory
Internet connectivity Optional Optional Mandatory

Chart compiled using EMediaLive's excellent Authoritative BD FAQ and Wikipedia.

HD DVD's advantage
As Blu-ray continues to get its act together on hardware requirements, there's no denying that HD DVD has had it right from the start. The HD DVD specification has required every player -- from Toshiba's early HD-A1 player -- to include secondary audio and video decoders, 128MB of local storage, and an Ethernet jack. Because movie studios know that special features will be accessible on every HD DVD player, several recent movies, including 300 and Blood Diamond, have picture-in-picture and Internet-enabled functionality. Of course, HD DVD's superior hardware requirements are just one factor out of many in its fight against Blu-ray -- but in this brutal high-def format war, every little bit helps.

Should I wait for Profile 1.1 or 2.0?
Profile 1.1 players certainly don't make older Profile 1.0 players obsolete. While movie enthusiasts lust over special features and commentary tracks, many people are completely uninterested in investing even more time in a movie. If you already have a Profile 1.0 player, it should be able to play all the new Profile 1.1 discs without a problem -- you just won't be access to some of the special features. On the other hand, if you don't have a Blu-ray player yet and you have an interest in special features, then you'll need to wait for new Profile 1.1 players to become available in Australia -- Panasonic has just released a player called the DMP-BD30 in the States, but local availability is as-yet unknown.

The same logic applies to Profile 2.0 -- you don't need to wait unless you want to be able to access the Internet-enabled features on the new discs. If you're still nervous about your Blu-ray player becoming obsolete, the best bet is to go with a PlayStation 3, which already has Internet connectivity and will likely be Profile 1.1 compliant after a forthcoming update.

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bhd.oa posted a comment   

I don't care about the extra features. I'm sticking with my 1.0 player as long as it will play any blu-ray movie stuck in it.

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