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Disney's interactive Blu-ray features conjure up ghost of WebTV

June 11, 2008 | 10:40 am

At the 114-year-old Ebell Club of Los Angeles, under regal banners proclaiming "Sleeping Beauty" and "BD Live," the Walt Disney Studios the other night unveiled the new, interactive features of Blu-ray movie discs. The presentation -- all flat-panel screens contrasting with the sedate dark wood -- gave me flashbacks. 

Blu-ray logo And no, it wasn't the celebratory Blu-ray blue martinis the waiters served that got me thinking that way.

Bob Chapek, president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, described how the 50th anniversary edition of "Sleeping Beauty" would offer more than a pristine restoration when the 1959 animated film is released on Blu-ray Oct. 7. The version for the high-definition player will contain a panoply of the interactive communications features -- chat, video streaming, online messaging, gaming and more -- available through the new BD Live Network.

Disney's High School MusicalThink of it as the Ginsu knife of home entertainment (It slices! it dices! But alas, you still have to make your own popcorn.)

Chapek said the studio discovered, with the airing of the Disney Channel's sleeper hit "High School Musical," that young viewers would simultaneously tune in to the musical in their own homes, then keep up a steady banter with friends via cellphone text messages or computer-based instant messages.  Disney seeks to enable this kind of behavior through Internet-connected Blu-ray players (think Sony's PlayStation 3 or the Panasonic BDP 50) and BD Live.

So once you've gone to Disney's BD Live website (available at launch) to register, you can use the "movie chat" feature to talk with friends using a laptop, a cellphone, a handheld device like the Blackberry or a virtual onscreen keypad. The chat session appears onscreen, over the movie. (One can almost hear the faint sound of teens everywhere tapping OMG! as they contemplate their private conversations being displayed on the big-screen TV, for parents and siblings alike to monitor.)

Another feature, called "movie mail," lets you upload and send a 30-second video message, superimposed on a pre-selected clip of the movie. The recipients receive notifications when they turn on the Blu-ray player, then can watch it onscreen, in a sort of picture-in-picture mode.

The Sleeping Beauty disc also boasts an online trivia game, in which players in far-flung living rooms can match wits in real time, while the movie is playing. Which seems to, well, upstage Maleficent and the storytellers, but I guess I'm being oh-so-over-40 and out of the demo.

While it's certainly laudable that Disney is seeking to use new technology to modernize the home entertainment experience, I felt like it was 1996, and I was listening to Steve Perlman tout WebTV Network, which sought to unite the Internet and the TV in what amounted to a shotgun marriage.

I mean, does anyone want to read instant messages from the couch?

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Images courtesy of Blu-ray Disc Assn. and Disney