The next iteration of Blu-ray playback, Profile 1.1, is about to head into consumers’ hands via a smattering of soon-to-release movies, but some groundwork for Blu-ray Profile 1.1 has already been laid, even if some consumers don’t realize it. Last week’s PlayStation 3 firmware upgrade included full support for Profile 1.1, a logical step for Sony to take with its PS3 considering Blu-ray is the company’s own proprietary format. But while this may seem like little more than a preparatory move, Sony Pictures was kind enough to send along a pre-release version of Resident Evil: Extinction, which includes Blu-ray Profile 1.1 support, so we could get our hands on the features a little bit early.
Picture-in-picture technology has been around on HD-DVD, but Profile 1.1 is the first time owners of a Blu-ray player can get their hands on similar functionality. In Resident Evil: Extinction, the picture-in-picture tool includes a series of interviews, storyboards, production photos and behind-the-scenes footage, all of which runs concurrently with the movie.
Activating picture-in-picture is just like activating a commentary track: just choose the option from the special-features menu and start the movie. Unlike a commentary track, though, which often drones on endlessly while the director or producer tries to “fill the silence,” the picture-in-picture window appears much more sporadically and only when relevant content is to be shown. The materials, be they full video and audio or sketches, appear in one of the TV’s corners, and not necessarily with any sort of predictability or pattern. In some respects, it’s like the early days of PowerPoint, when people inserted crazy animations “because they could,” and without always thinking of the need to be consistent or predictable.
When the picture-in-picture turns on, the audio switches from 5.1 surround sound to mere two-channel stereo setup. Had the windows both included audio this would make sense, but the audio switches to 2.0 even if the material in the smaller window has no audio track at all. For instance, when the smaller window includes sketches alone, the receiver switches to two-channel audio and goes dead quiet. This may simply be a PlayStation 3 issue, as switching between LPCM and Bitstream made no difference, but we don’t have the necessary Panasonic Blu-ray player (DMP-BD30) to test the performance of Profile 1.1 on another 1.1-equipped Blu-ray player. Ideally a non-PS3 Blu-ray player will enable switching audio streams, but since Resident Evil: Extinction is one of the first Profile 1.1 movies to release, we have a suspicion it was more of a Sony oversight than anything else.
Adding fuel to that “hunch” is a demonstration for Sunshine, which Fox will release on Blu-ray on January 8. During the demo, the studio indicated that viewers will be able to manually choose their desired audio stream in real time during picture-in-picture playback. Of course, we could have simply been struggling with the PS3’s Sixaxis controller as a Blu-ray remote, which may have led to us overlooking or not being able to access a “complex” function like manual audio selection. Either way, if Sony ends up adding selectable audio in future Blu-ray Disc releases, much like Fox plans to do, Profile 1.1 could prove to be a fun and worthwhile upgrade, and it would certainly take one of the now-exclusive feathers out of HD-DVD’s cap.
— Jonas Allen