A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT......Blu-Ray/DVD FLIPPER DISCS
By Ronald Epstein
This past December Universal Home Entertainment announced that they would begin rolling out "Flipper Discs" starting in January 2010. This dual-layer format supports both Blu-ray and DVD all on a single disc. This technology gives the consumer the means of playing these titles on either player, whichever is most convenient for them. Flipper Discs also give the opportunity for consumers not yet ready to upgrade to the Blu-ray format to have these supported titles in their collection once they decide to make the move.
This newly supported format for Blu-ray should come as no surprise to veterans of the format war. Both Universal and Warner first introduced flipper disc technology to the now defunct HD-DVD format back in 2007. At the time both studios were promoting the identical technology as "combo discs."
When people across the Internet last month first learned that Universal was returning to flipper discs there were mixed emotions about the move. For some, the words "flipper disc" is sparks negative reaction based upon the history of this dual-layered platform.
But are flipper discs deserving of the somewhat negative reaction that they are receiving? Many of us don't believe so.
When combo discs first arrived on HD-DVD almost three years ago we were in the midst of a nasty format war between two competing HD formats. Anyone squarely in the Blu-ray camp immediately dismissed the combo discs whether they had personal problems with them or not.
Mind you, the technology had some downsides. First, Universal was selling combo discs at a premium price. Consumers wanting a specific new release were often forced to pay premiums upwards of $5 more for a new title releases only to the combo disc format. That angered many consumers.
Another problem with combo discs for purists is that you lose disc label artwork. Personally, I can understand that this may be important to collectors, but overall, I don't find it to be a major loss.
Finally, there were reports of playback failure on the combo discs which were blamed breakdown of the composite materials.
The one person I knew we needed to get the facts from was Kevin Collins, former HD-DVD Evangelist for Microsoft and spokesman for the HD-DVD promotional group. Speaking with Mr. Colllins, here is what he had to report:
When we did our investigation of that issue, we found that the percentage of discs being complained about was less than the percentage of complaints with DVD-18 discs (i.e. the DVD’s that had 16:9 on one side and 4:3 on the other). HD DVD combo discs used the SAME replication process as DVD-18 discs.
We also found out that part of the problem with the HD DVD combo discs was the batch of glue that was being used at one of the replication plants and had a problem after setting for a certain period of time. The replicator resolved that problem by replacing the glue that was used to pair the two DVD-9 disc and the HD DVD 15 side.
When considering the flipper format being used for Blu-ray titles the most important thing one must understand is that we are not talking about the exact same technology here.
To again quote Kevin Collins:
I wouldn’t say that the BD flipper is the same as the HD DVD combo as HD DVD was based entirely off DVD replication process and the BD Flipper is combining two different line technologies BD25/50 and DVD 5/9. Thus, I would be cautious to make a comparison between the two as the replication process isn’t the same. While it will appear the same to the consumer in terms of functionality and that there is data on both sides, I would say that is where the similarities end compared to DVD-18 and HD DVD combo discs. Making a comparison of reliability between those technologies and the BD process I don’t believe is accurate from a technical perspective.
As you can see, we are not exactly talking about the same animal here.
So, last month when Universal announced that they were returning to familiar territory and releasing their first batch of flipper discs starting with The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum --- the naysayers began badmouthing the concept right out of the gate.
Universal Home Entertainment contacted me a week ago with their concerns about how consumers were reacting to their announcement across the Internet. They asked me if I would take a look at their Bourne Identity titles and let our readers know what I thought of them.
It was a perfect opportunity for me since I previously had problems with one of their recent BD releases, BRUNO, which would not play on most Panasonic BD55 players including my own. If I could get these new flipper discs to play without a hitch then I could easily give them a thumbs up.
I sampled The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy on my Panasonic BD55. Both Blu-ray and DVD sides played perfectly. The Blu-ray transfer looked remarkably good. It was interesting to turn the disc over and see just how much
more noise was introduced into the DVD transfer. With identical chapter stops on both sides it was easy to do a comparison.
The only negative comment I have about the titles themselves concerns the DVD presentation. It seems Universal placed the original 2005 transfer on the DVD side, which is fine, but they also included old trailers as well promoting 2005 releases such as Miami Vice. Additionally, you can't skip through these trailers. You either have to scan through them or go straight to the menu. In the future I would suggest the studio allow skipping capability so consumers can more easily access the trailers that most interest them.
My verdict on these new Bourne Identity flipper discs? I am very impressed with what I see. Though I personally prefer the concept of releasing a separate DVD and BD in a single package, I can't sit here and find any major fault with putting everything on one disc.
Of course, there are a few things that need to be watched. Will Universal be forcing consumers to pay a premium for these discs? Thus far, it doesn't seem so. All Bourne Identity BD titles list at the same price as their other past BD releases and on Amazon, I found them selling for $19.95 each which is an incredible price considering you get two format versions of the film.
Since the DVD versions of these discs may be used in portable devices while traveling, will its constant usage damage the very delicate BD layer?
Universal Studios will be keeping a close watch on this thread over the next few weeks. We encourage our members to express their concerns about the new format as well as post their initial experiences once they purchase any one or all of The Bourne Identity releases.
As long as you keep your feedback professional and polite it will go a long way in helping the studio improve these releases.