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Digital Copy: Movie "Downloads" from Blu-ray Disc (6/2008)

    by Douglas Dixon

Fox Digital Copy
Juno and AVP Requiem
Digital Copies for iTunes
Digital Copies for Windows Media Player
Nice Copy

With the victory of the Blu-ray Disc format for high-def movies (www.blu-raydisc.com), the movie studios and consumer electronics industry hope that consumers will rush out to buy HD movies on disc for viewing on their home theatre displays. But consumers want their media available where, when, and how it best fits their needs. And if  you spend the money to buy a new high-def version of a movie you already own on DVD (and maybe previously on VHS tape), you're not going to be thrilled to be asked to buy additional lower-res versions for your Apple iPod, Sony PSP, or other portable player.

        Fox Digital Copy

Sony Pictures therefore has been experimenting with portable versions of its movies on select Blu-ray releases, to play on a PC or download to its PSP gaming player. For example, late 2007 it offered an exclusive version of Resident Evil: Extinction at Wal-Mart with a digital file.

Warner Home Video also has been experimenting with two forms of digital copies. Special editions of titles like Superman Returns, available through Wal-Mart and Target, included the option to download an electronic copy over the Internet. But electronic downloads are slow, and it really may not be a good idea for the industry to be training consumers to learn the joy of downloading movies over the Internet. 

A more convenient option is to put the digital copy right on on the disc with the movie, as with the December release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Warner digital copy is only in Windows Media format (i.e., not for Macs or iPods). The product includes a 25 digit authorization code that allows a copy for both one PC and one portable media device.

Fox Digital Copy

Fox also has been experimenting with an ongoing effort with digital files, what it calls Fox Digital Copy (www.foxdigitalcopy.com), as in the March release of the explicitly titled Hitman Digital Copy Unrated Special Edition DVD

   

Fox has worked with Apple to support Fox Digital Copy on both PCs and Macs (www.apple.com/pr/library/2008/01/15fox.html). Fox then provides digital movie files in iTunes-compatible format for playback on PCs, Macs, and iPods (and the iPhone), as well as in Windows Media format for playback under Windows and on compatible Plays For Sure portable devices (e.g., from SanDisk, Creative, Samsung, Sony, and others).

The idea is that you can play the movie on your PC, and also sync it to a portable device -- For both iTunes and iPods and Windows Media and associated devices. The documentation says "You may transfer one copy to one PC and one copy to one Portable Device."

Fox is including digital copies on both DVD and Blu-ray with selected new releases, including:
- Juno Two-Disc Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray disc (April 15)
- Alien vs. Predator: Requiem Two-Disc Extreme Unrated Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray disc (April 15)
- Jumper Two-Disc Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray disc (June 16)

Juno and AVP Requiem

I had the chance to try out the Digital Copy feature on a Windows PC with the Juno and AVP Blu-ray releases. Fox is clearly promoting the concept for consumers, with a banner on the top of the font cover ("Digital Copy / Special Edition"), a bright banner across the back of the case explaining the idea ("Simple. Fast. Portable."), and a paper insert inside with instructions and the 16-digit serial number. 

These are two-discs sets: Disc 1 is the movie on Blu-ray, with special features, and disc 2 is a DVD with the digital copy files. 

The disc 2 DVD actually contains three copies of the movie. 

  • Windows Media "PC" version -- at 720 x 390 resolution for Juno (AVP is 720 x 300)
  • "Portable" Windows Media version -- at lower 320 x 174 resolution
  • Apple iTunes version -- at 853 x 461 resolution (AVP is 853 x 356)

Juno is a relatively short movie at 1:36. The two higher-res versions are just over 1.1 GB in size, and the smaller portable version is around 520 KB, so all three fit well on a single DVD at good quality. AVP is a bit longer at 1:41, yet the file sizes are about the same (1.2 GB and 400 MB) -- thanks to tweaking the resolution and compression parameters.

When inserted in a PC, the DVD launches a clean Copy Manager application (in Adobe Flash).

   

The Digital Copy Manager application then can transfer the movie files on the DVD disc to your hard disk, installing the digital copy to iTunes and/ or Windows Media Player.

   

Digital Copies for iTunes

For copying to  iTunes, the Digital Copy application transfers the operation to iTunes. The movie to be "downloaded" then appears under the DEVICES heading, where you need to enter the serial number. 

   

The movie then appears under the STORE heading as one of your active Downloads. The transfer (copy from DVD disc to hard drive) then takes some 5 minutes, depending on the speed of your DVD drive -- but certainly faster than downloading over the Internet. 

When done, the movie finally appears in your LIBRARY, under Movies. Just double-click to play the movie on your computer, or use iTunes to sync one copy to your iPod. 

   

The AVP high-res movie file is compressed with MPEG-4 H.264 video and stereo audio.

See Apple support: Transferring video from DVDs with iTunes Digital Copy
    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1539?viewlocale=en_US

Digital Copies for Windows Media Player

For copying to Windows Media Player, enter the serial number and then choose whether to install to your hard disk or a removable device. The Digital Copy application then transfers the movie file from the DVD disc.

      

When the copy completes, the  file appears in Windows Media Player, where you can just double-click to play it on your PC. You also still have one opportunity to sync it to a portable media player.

   

The AVP high-res WMV file is compressed at a bitrate of 6.12 Mbps, with Windows Media 9 video at 12:5 aspect ratio and Windows Media Audio 9.2 at 128 kps, 48 kHz, stereo (A/V) 2-pass CBR audio.

As reported by Windows Media Player, the copy protection rights associated with the files include:
            Can be played unlimited number of times
            Cannot be burned
            Can be synchronized once more
            Media usage rights can be backed up

In the spirit of the movie, I broke the rules with Juno by bypassing the official installer and seeing what would happen if I just copied the two Windows Media files from the DVD to my hard disk. No problem -- I double-clicked to play them, Windows Media Player launched, prompted once for the serial number, and then both files played fine on my PC (since they are protected with embedded Windows Media DRM). 

Nice Copy

Providing portable digital copies of movies on the disc seems an attractive idea. They were easy to install, used existing players, and fun to watch.

Another issue that may arise over time is the desire to move the copy from one portable device to another. The Fox website advises consumers to call with such license authorization issues. I tried submitting a query through the website, and heard back within an hour.

It would seem that these digital copies make sense for the studios, adding real value for consumers while not threatening high-def Blu-ray releases (or even standard-res DVDs) too much, since the digital copies are somewhat lower resolution. 

Digital copies make sense for the studios with high-def Blu-ray releases, and even with standard-res DVDs, since the digital copies are somewhat lower resolution. Even more, the movie video files do not contain the interactive navigation and extra features that can make the disc versions much more interesting. 

This will even more so as Blu-ray players and titles support more advanced BD-Live interactive capabilities -- you can only watch the digital copy of the movie as a linear file a handful of times, especially on a smaller portable device, but you can explore and enjoy the extra annotations and features on the Blu-ray disc for much longer.

Portions originally published in Mediaware magazine, May/June 2008.

Find Juno [Blu-ray] on Amazon.com
Find Alien vs. Predator: Requiem [Blu-ray] on Amazon.com