||Lunes 8 de Diciembre de 2008
Por Sarah Mc Bride
Get ready for a lot more ways to catch a movie.
Hollywood studios and tech companies are rolling out a host of innovations that will change the way we experience films at home and in theaters. They've already begun to serve up DVDs that let you chat with other people who are watching the same movie. They're also sprucing up theaters with crystal-clear screens and amenities like cozier seats and restaurant-quality food.
Coming soon: kiosks that can burn a copy of a movie while you wait, from a library of thousands of titles. The industry is also working on ways to easily send movies from gadget to gadget -- so you might download a movie on your iPhone and stream it onto your TV.
Down the road, expect new ways to easily store digital movies online, so you can access them from any computer, anytime. We might also get theaters filled with dozens of speakers for super-sharp sound, as well as much more lifelike animated characters.
Here's a look at some of the big changes on the way.
DVDs have been a cash cow for years, but sales are starting to slip, and studios are hunting for ways to keep people interested in buying. The big selling point for the latest generation of discs -- Blu-ray -- has been super-sharp picture and sound. Now studios are trying to make Blu-ray even more alluring with an Internet-inspired makeover: They are using a technology called BD Live to make the discs part movie, part game and part social network.
"The ability to bring some of that spark that people get from [online] social interaction to the TV and DVD is important to the future of those technologies," says Jonathan Handel, an entertainment-technology lawyer at TroyGould in Los Angeles.
How does it all work? With some of Walt Disney Co.'s discs, for instance, friends across the country can use BD Live to chat with each other on the TV screen while they're watching the movie. The text goes in a box over a portion of the screen.
Of course, for all this to work, you need a Blu-ray player that can hook up to the Internet -- a stumbling block for many viewers. What's more, the technology is still young, and many features are clunky and slow. So, BD Live hasn't taken off with all the movies Disney has rolled out so far, such as "Sleeping Beauty."
But many industry experts think Disney will have a hit on its hands if it adds the feature to movies like the original "High School Musical" -- the 2006 hit whose young fans grew up with texting and live chat. Having the feature built into the movie might encourage those viewers to watch the movie more and become more engaged with the characters. And that, in turn, might make them more likely to watch and buy later movies in the franchise.
Disney declined to comment on whether it will re-release "High School Musical" as a Blu-ray DVD.
Some aficionados believe the biggest potential for BD Live comes in cult movies that fans watch over and over and are primed to become more involved with. Take "X Files: I Want to Believe" from News Corp.'s Fox Home Entertainment. (News Corp. also owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.) BD Live watchers can use the disc to play a videogame where they get clues and try to solve a case. The first person to figure it out gets his or her name posted on BD Live tomorrow, when the next case is announced. "It's fanboy heaven," says Sven Davison, vice president of Blu-ray content at Fox.
General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal also tried appealing to intense fans with the DVD release last month of "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." The studio offered a live conversation with director Guillermo del Toro on Nov. 23 -- available only via BD Live. More than 400 questions were submitted, far more than Mr. del Toro could respond to.
The event was emblematic of the "big, immersive, interactive experiences" that Universal believes it can create using BD Live, says Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
NEW WAYS TO GET MOVIES
The past few years have given us much more flexibility in buying and watching movies. You can buy a movie online at the iTunes Store for playback on an iPhone. With the right cables, you can plug your iPhone into your TV and watch the movie on a bigger screen.
Soon, it will be possible to send that movie to the TV wirelessly and easily, technologists say. Expect portable devices -- phones, PDAs and the like -- to increasingly come with built-in technology to help consumers zap movies around. "We're going to figure out every way, every possible place, every possible time of day you might want a movie, and we're going to give it to you," says Danny Kaye, senior vice president for new business development at Fox Home Entertainment.
You'll also have more choices for buying physical copies of movies. A number of companies are working on in-store kiosks that will offer thousands of titles for sale. These go beyond the vending machines that are already in many drugstores and supermarkets, which allow you to choose from a selection of perhaps several dozen titles. The kiosks in the works will store potentially thousands of movies on a hard drive and then burn copies while you wait. The idea in part is to make it easier to track down older movies as big-box stores cut space for DVDs.
Along with a broad selection of movies, you'll have lots of choices about how you get your movie delivered. Instead of one primary format, the way the DVD has dominated over the past few years, expect an explosion of choices, from traditional discs to flash-memory drives. Some stores may also offer packaging for the burn-on-demand movies.
Seattle-based MOD Systems Inc., which says it has agreements with several major studios to sell their catalog movies, is aiming to have its pilot kiosks in stores by the end of next year. Their model uses SD cards, which consumers can pop into a small but growing number of TVs and DVD players.
The advantage, MOD says, is convenience. Consumers can carry the memory cards around easily, and eventually they will be compatible with more portable devices such as mobile phones. As for how long you'll be standing around waiting for your order, MOD says its goal is to burn standard-definition movies in three minutes or less.
Blockbuster Inc., meanwhile, is testing kiosks from NCR Corp. in two Dallas-area stores. The kiosks burn movies onto portable media players that can hook up to TVs. And Polar Frog Digital LLC is deploying kiosks on some college campuses that will allow students to burn movies and other content onto DVDs, SD cards and USB devices.
MAKING DIGITAL SIMPLER
Movie companies aren't just looking for new ways to sell physical copies of movies. They're also trying to make downloading more attractive.
Many Hollywood executives are hoping to tap into cloud computing -- an emerging technology that allows companies to store tons of data on powerful networks of servers. Essentially, people could store their movie libraries online and tap into them from any computer, anywhere. Advocates say customers will be a lot more comfortable downloading movies if they have them all in one place and know they're still accessible even if their laptop gets lost.
Once you own the movie, "you can bring it down to any device you want, on your handset, PC or TV," says Tom Lesinski, president of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Digital Entertainment. "That is what a lot of people think will be the magic potion to allow digital delivery to succeed."
A consortium of studios, retailers and consumer-electronics companies called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem is working on the issue, but is at least a couple of years away from a solution. One key player missing from the group: Apple Inc., which declined to comment on its decision not to participate.
Studios are also trying a shorter-term way to increase people's comfort levels with digital downloads: two-for-one deals. Buy a premium-priced DVD, and get a digital download of the movie to go with it. These offers are already proving popular. Take "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." Both the Blu-ray edition and three-disc special edition of the movie in regular definition offered a digital download as part of the package. Within a few days of the release, NBC Universal says, about 10% of the people who bought one of those editions had downloaded their digital copy.
With consumers getting used to crisp definition and increasingly sophisticated effects on their computer screens, theaters are bringing some of that glitz to the big screen.
Already, thousands of theaters across the country have added 2K digital projection, which ditches movie reels for digital movie files. The resulting image is super-crisp and free from blotches. But the pixel structure can sometimes show for viewers sitting close to the screen. Now get ready for 4K, which keeps the same high quality even in seats up close to the biggest screens.
Digital projection also might end up meaning more choice for consumers. That's because it's much cheaper to ship movies on hard drives or via satellite rather than as big, bulky reels. Since the cost of delivering the movies is so low, theaters in small towns that were low on priority lists to get art-house movies can get them just as quickly as big-city theaters.
Meanwhile, studios are working on more eye-popping images. More movie companies are rolling out films in 3-D -- a much more advanced version than the jerky efforts of yesterday. Next year, expect more than a half-dozen titles, including "Monsters vs. Aliens," the first 3-D movie from DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.; and Fox's "Avatar," the latest effort by "Titanic" director James Cameron.
The technology has allowed studios "to innovate to a place that the home can't touch for years," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.
Studios are also working to make computer-generated characters ever more lifelike. Today's animators and computer artists have identified a challenge they call the "uncanny valley" -- the more human characters look, the less lifelike they seem. Eyes often take on a creepy, zombie-like hue, for example.
So, researchers are working on how to scan faces in a way that captures every detail down to the pores. At the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, graphics researcher Paul Debevec has people sit inside a sphere of lights while high-resolution cameras snap photographs; the result is a very exact image that can serve as the base for a hyper-real animated character.
And entertainment futurists are always thinking ahead. For example, engineers are working on affordable, large-scale hologram images. Last week, at a Florida conference, the Institute for Creative Technologies showed off a hologram-like image of an animated head that held conversations with bystanders as they walked by. It's not hard to imagine a time when holograms will be able to move around a room in a lifelike way -- and possibly end up as part of the movie-theater experience.
But patience is required. "Really compelling holography is, I would say, 20-plus years away," says David Wertheimer, who heads the Entertainment Technology Center at USC.
Improved sound could be coming, too. One company, Iosono Inc., recently demonstrated an advanced system that uses a network of dozens of speakers around the auditorium; on-screen voices seem to come from right beside each audience member. Studio and theater executives say they like the systems but are studying the costs of installing them and the technical challenges of adding another audio format to movies.
Meanwhile, all this technology will be served up in increasingly lavish surroundings. Companies including AMC Entertainment Inc., National Amusements Inc. and Regal Entertainment Group, as well as numerous smaller operators, are opening cushier theaters around the country. Think along the lines of martinis instead of super-size Cokes; tinkling pianos in the lobby; valet parking; gently rocking, faux-leather seats; and restaurants with ritzy snacks like seviche.
Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners, estimates about 400 theaters now offer restaurant and bar services. "They are part of a trend, high-end and otherwise, to capture the 'dinner and a movie' crowd that used to go elsewhere for the dinner part," he says.
|| 08/12/2008. The Wall Street Journal Online.