Sonic says it formed HDAA to help get quality titles out to marketplace in a timely fashion by providing members access to information, training, and the industry's first available toolsets for both interactive HD formats, HD-DVD and Blu-ray. HDAA members exchange information at group meetings, special events, and technical seminars with Sonic engineers directly involved in defining the new standards. In fact there was a meeting in Burbank on Monday, July 18, and others are scheduled this week in London and Tokyo.
Rolf Hartley, senior vice president and general manger of Sonic's professional products group, told me that while HD-DVD and Blu-ray are different, each has traditional authoring components. For both formats "we have to figure out how to meld the standard DVD-Video authoring style, which is kind of technical, with more of a more creative ROM-style program which has its own techniques." Sonic, he says, is in a solid position because of its past affiliation with the high-end DVD video authoring houses, but also with the world's leading ROM creative houses.
Putting out a single tool that will satisfy needs for both formats is the challenge, Hartley says. Sonic is demonstrating early tools that it hopes will open discussions on the use models needed to create bonus content. Feedback and design ideas will help maximize the efficiency and workflow for authoring houses working with each format group. "Hollywood's CE companies and the technical consortiums all have extremely challenging time frames for wanting to release titles either at the end of this year or early in 2006. That means we have to come to some sort of baseline functionality for creating these titles very quickly. It makes obvious sense to work together in an alliance," he says.
The first phase of the HDAA program included delivery of Sonic-HD series encoding, Scenarist HD for creating standard-content high-definition titles, and the Sonic Advanced Interactivity Toolkit. Hartley says they are already offering delivery of new capabilities based on feedback received at HDAA meetings.
Comchoice VP Duncan Wain says Sonic is the only off-the-shelf solution provider for HD-DVD and Blu-ray right now, so it makes perfect sense to be involved with the alliance. "While (members of the alliance) are all fierce competitors, we'll initially have to put all of that aside as we venture down uncharted paths."
Comchoice is in a unique position of its own, and it clearly illustrates the point that competition needs to rest if physical media will prevail (at least for now) over downloads. The company is one of eight affiliated with the Global Digital Media Exchange (GDMX), the primary authoring, compression, broadcast distribution facility for Warner Brothers. While Comchoice is an independent firm not owned by Time Warner, as an affiliate they helped GDMX put out DVD titles back when the format was launched. What gives Comchoice a unique advantage, as a result, is that Toshiba is much involved with Warner Brothers, and they will have their own HD equipment at some point. Comchoice will be able to test both high-definition toolkits early on. Sonic, however, is the only one to offer Blu-ray tools so far. "That's why we joined the Sonic Group."
As a journalist, I talk to all kinds of people all of the time. Many consumers don't have a clue to what high-definition formats are, others don't care. Even many replicators I talk with are not convinced consumers will embrace yet another new format. I have to agree with Rolf Hartley that if the new format offers something new beyond just picture quality, it will be very successful. But everyone has to remember that purchasing toolkits and machines is expensive, and no company is going to take the chance of buying product that is just not up to par. Most everyone who has been in business for a length of time has be burnt before. That can't happen again. High-definition might not have a second chance.