A few months ago, we set about the difficult task of authoring a Blu-ray version of Death Grip, which you can now buy on our website. We wanted to have them ready in time for our theatrical premiere in June, and definitely by the time we exhibited at Comic-Con in July.
But we didn’t realize how difficult this task would actually be, or how close we’d be cutting it as a result.
A lot of folks have been asking us about the process, so we thought we’d blog about what to expect when replicating a small order of Blu-rays. Because it’s nowhere near as easy as you’d expect, given what it’s like to replicate DVDs.
When making a DVD, you go through an “authoring” process where you take your edited product and drop it into an authoring program (DVDit, Encore, DVD Studio, etc.), where you make menus, playlists, Easter eggs, and all that fun stuff. The authoring system then takes your DVD “program” and translates it into a standard format that every DVD player can understand. Despite the occasional glitch popping up, it’s amazing that, given the diversity of DVD players on the market, these authoring systems basically have a 100% success rate at making compatible discs. If you work in software, you understand how improbable this is.
You then have two options for distributing your freshly authored DVD. Either you burn or duplicate your own DVDs, buy the sleeves and package them yourself – or – you can send a DVD or an ISO (a file of the DVD) to a factory where they replicate your order onto discs and do all the packaging & shrink wrapping for you, all for roughly $0.99 a piece.
Now the mistake we made on Death Grip was assuming that making a Blu-ray disc (BD) would be the same process. Run the authoring software, burn a disc, deliver to a replication facility and get a thousand made. The authoring part seemed much the same as making a DVD. So we just authored the same menu structure as our DVD, burned a BD out, and it worked on the first try. Great. Now just deliver it to the replication plant and we’re done, right?
Here’s what you don’t know about replicating your BD: you can’t just send that burned BD to a replication facility. They actually require it in a specialized format called BDCMF. So you have to put your Blu-ray disc in a folder with that format, and then send that folder to them on a hard drive. And what’s more, your authoring software probably doesn’t export to this BDCMF format. Encore CS5.5 and CS6 and DVD Studio will not do it. As it turns out, Sony owns the licensing rights to export this proprietary file structure and hasn’t granted it to most authoring programs. So you really only have 3 choices to export your BDCMF file: Rivergate’s BluStreak Tracer for $600, Sony ‘s DoStudio Indie at $3,000, or a third option that’s $1000, but I won’t even bother with a link. Just get Rivergate.
Then there’s the other hurdle of AACS, or Advanced Access Content System. Unlike CSS, every BD disc has a unique encryption key supplied by the AACS Licensing Distributor. You have to pay a fee for it, and you can’t replicate a Blu-ray without an AACS key. (DVDs may be similar with regards to CSS, but the hurdle is far smaller.) This is a bureaucratic step, so you’ll need to budget another couple days so this can be done. Your BD replicating facility deals with it all and wraps it into the cost of the replication. Sony, BD players, and studios came up with this hurdle because of piracy concerns. Blame whoever you want, the fact is this is the reason AACS Keys are now a necessary extra step toward getting your BDs made.
OK so you’ve got all that down, and you’re ready to go through these hurdles with a BD replicator. Good for you!
Now you get to face yet another obstacle – finding a replicator. The number of Blu-ray replication facilities is extremely small, so we had a hard time finding one. And once we did, we found out they would only do single-layer BDs (maxing out at around 2 hours of content), and also required us to get the sleeves printed at an external facility. You see, since the costs of going HD and making a BD are so high, the majority of orders these replicators get are from major studios and distributors, and in quantities of 50,000+ units. Ours was only 1,000 units, so you can imagine how excited and motivated our sales rep was about walking us through every step mentioned above.
It’s simply not worth a replication plant’s effort to do your crummy order of 1,000 Blu-rays, unless you do it perfectly and require no further attention after sending them your hard drive. We went through hours of troubleshooting, multiple overnight FedEx deliveries, and a lot of wasted authoring time because the information simply wasn’t out there or well communicated to us.
Even in making 1,000 BDs, we’re still considered very small fish, and barely knew what we were doing because nobody’s really done this stuff yet. So hopefully our experience can prove a valuable lesson for you, in case you ever decide to take on the BD beast yourself someday.