How Seamless is Your Branching?

Posted by Dave Cowl on August 29, 2007 
Filed Under: Authoring, Blu-ray, HD DVD, Studios

There is a lot of talk about Seamless Branching, particularly the upcoming Warner title Return to House on Haunted Hill. Multiple sources are stating that this title will have seamless branching on Blu-ray Disc but not on HD DVD. This is not the first time – the Nine Inch Nails title Beside You in Time was also featured seamless branching only on the Blu-ray Disc. This though perhaps is the first title from a major studio that illustrates the discrepancy between the formats. Amir Majidimehr from Microsoft has described branching as “not as “cool” since it has been done before” though he also indicated that it might show up on some future titles. It seems that the Blu-ray studios think it is pretty cool, with Sony Pictures using seamless branching on big titles like Spiderman 2 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The question that comes to mind is this: If Seamless Branching is in the specification for both formats, why is only Blu-ray Disc making use of this feature? It will certainly be interesting to see how the HD DVD camp responds…

Related posts:

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  3. Blu-ray’s Most Wanted
  4. Blu-ray Buy Two Get One Free Deal, 95 Sony Titles Included
  5. DTS Master Audio – Titles to Test on Your Playstation 3


16 Responses to “How Seamless is Your Branching?”

  1. Chris on August 29th, 2007 11:52 am

    This seems kind of “gimmicky” if you ask me. I have no interest in a “Dragon’s Lair” type experience using a DVD player remote. If I want to play a video game, there are much better options available.

    Sega CD had a lot of FMV games that did the same thing and there was very little public interest.

  2. Tyler Pruitt on August 29th, 2007 12:09 pm


    What about LOTR? Both versions (Theatrical/Extended) on one disc would be sweet.

  3. DS2 on August 29th, 2007 12:15 pm

    Well, as a supporter of HD DVD, I certainly would like to see this feature used on that format. I think it’s a very important feature that has enormous potential for future releases. Granted, I care very little about all the talk centered around the release of RTHOHH, but for features like the aforementioned Spidey 2 and CE3K, that’s huge.

    I must admit to a bit of trepidation that MS’s Amir is downplaying the relevance of this technology, but I still have hope they are able to get it up to specs for HD DVD, particularly with the imminent release of Blade Runner. Otherwise, this could be a considerable setback for HD DVD in terms of comparative technical specifications.

  4. Chris on August 29th, 2007 12:26 pm

    LOTR is a good example, but I don’t see how they would get that to work. For one thing, the musical score is different for extended versions. They couldn’t just drop scenes in on the fly and expect everything to fit. Unless they went back and changed the soundtrack.

    Still, “choose your path” movies have never been a big seller and it there doesn’t seem to be much public interest.

  5. Tyler Pruitt on August 29th, 2007 2:06 pm


    I pretty sure the latest LOTR DVDs have seamless branching, which is the reason there is no DTS-ES audio on those releases(since the peak bandwidth is constrained).

  6. Dave Cowl on August 29th, 2007 2:37 pm

    I agree that the ‘choose your path’ titles are not worth much.

    It will be very interesting to see if the HD DVD authoring tools get updated to handle the seamless branching that is in the spec.

    It would also be interesting to know if the lack of seamless on HD DVD is related to authoring tools, bandwidth limitations or HDi issues at the branch points.

    The tech geek in me needs to know! :)

  7. Segarsj on August 29th, 2007 2:42 pm

    The whole seamless branching feature is neat, but by no means a make-or-break feature, for me anyway.

    I’m not saying I’m against it, mind you. I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal as very few titles would stand to benefit from this feature.

    Also, I’m confused why the NIN release was unable to add this feature. It’s not an issue of space, as the additional rear projection footage is presented as an unlockable easter-egg. Perhaps there was an issue with HDi or maybe they just felt as though the inclusion of this feature, at that time was superfluous and there fore a non issue.

    Whatever the reason it does seem odd, but maybe they don’t see it as important feature.

    Either way I highly doubt it’s a technical limitation of HD DVD, and even if it was, I’ll gladly take that limitation over any of the other limitations that are inherent with the aged Blu-ray spec., or Blu-ray’s lack of mandatory audio support for True HD and Dolby Digital Plus.

    Audio support is far more important to me.

    Anyone else?

  8. Dave Cowl on August 29th, 2007 11:58 pm

    The NiN site used to have an explanation as to why the HD DVD was the only one of the three formats that lacked seamless branching (it was there on DVD and Blu-ray Disc) but I can’t find any information there currently.

    Mandatory TrueHD is a waste of time. I have not seen a single disc that has only TrueHD on it for HD DVD so I am not sure what mandatory TrueHD buys you at all, aside from an extra royalty for the player guaranteed.

    Only 15% of domestic HD DVDs have lossless audio where over 55% of Blu-ray discs do – including 100% of Disney, Fox, MGM and Sony titles.

  9. Tyler Pruitt on August 30th, 2007 3:22 am


    I think you can guess why the NiN HD DVD didn’t have seamless branching, *cough* Bandwidth *cough*

    I think the HD DVD studios, should switch to only using a single english TrueHD track (like FOX does with DTS-HD MA on their BDs).

  10. Segarsj on August 30th, 2007 8:20 am

    @Dave Cowl

    While you’re right about the 15% of HD DVD titles with lossless audio, that’s really only half of what I was getting at. In addition to mandatory support for True HD I also mentioned the importance for DD+ as well.

    Sure, I would love to have every disc presented with lossless audio, but lets be honest, do we really need to see Happy Gilmore with a lossless audio presentation, or will DD+ be more than satisfactory? The answer is that DD+ is a very powerful codec in it’s own right, with up to 3mbit/s on HD DVD and only 1.7mbit/s on Blu-ray. This presentation will be more than enough for a lot of titles out there, and for those titles that demand something better, they’ll receive the lossless treatment ala True HD.

    While Blu-ray is leading the pack with lossless audio tracks they have released over 36% of their titles with the DVD standard Dolby Digital audio track (@640kbit/s up from @480kbit/s of DVD) as their primary audio track! On top of that over 50% of the existing Blu-ray releases are encoded in MPEG2! Sure MPEG2 compresses a lot less than VC1 or AVC, but it is less efficient and it fails to present the high def image as nicely as AVC or VC1. Many reviewers maintain this stance, so why use it?

    My point is that with HD DVD, at the very worst you’ll be getting a 1.5mbit DD+ audio track, and depending on the release, a lossless True HD track. On top of that over 86% of all titles are encoded with VC1.

    As it stands less than 1% of all Blu-ray titles include DD+, and 4% include True HD tracks.

    Bear in mind, I’m not trying to say that HD DVD is leading the lossless audio pack, Blu-ray is, but HD DVD ensures that nearly all of their releases receive arguably better presentations than 50% of all Blu-ray titles to date.

    One thing I would love to see is a player that can decode the full DTS HD, or MA stream, as opposed to extracting just the core audio. DTS was my audio presentation of choice on DVD and I can’t wait to hear beyond the 1.5mbit/s core.

    I hope that I’ve made myself clear that I’m not knocking Blu-ray’s dedication to lossless audio, only their lower tier releases that deserve better presentations.

    (Bear in mind, all of these stats have been pulled from the respective statistics pages you have provided on your site. I can’t guarantee their validity)

  11. DS2 on August 30th, 2007 9:28 am


    Well, for as much as I’d like to see the tech used in more future releases, I have to agree that seamless branching is not a make or break feature for HD DVD.

    If it came down to it, any movie release with an alternate version could be released as a 2-disc set if the branching tech was, for whatever reason, problematic for HD DVD.

    This sentiment was Alan Bell’s answer to the 30gb vs. 50gb disc capacity difference between HD DVD and BluRay, so it only stands to reason that it is applicable in this case as well.

  12. Dave Cowl on August 30th, 2007 9:34 am

    Some of the best looking titles on HD Media are MPEG2, such as Crank, which I still think is the best looking HD Disc to date.

    You seem to be forgetting that most of the Warner HD DVD titles are 640kbps DD+ which is effectively identical to the Blu-ray equivalents – so that is the very worst you get. The only reason they use DD+ is that they can’t do DD at 640 – another feature inherited from the DVD spec (448 max).

    Universal has done many at 1.5 – Warner has not.

    TrueHD is not needed if you have LPCM.

    Agreed on the DTS-HD:MA. It would be nice to be able to get to that codec on the Fox/MGM as well as the European HD DVDs that use that codec.

    Something I would like to see more of is 6.1 and 7.1 – we have seen a few examples on BD mostly from Lionsgate, but nothing on HD DVD?

  13. Segarsj on August 30th, 2007 10:10 am

    It’s hard for me to check the actual bitrates for the audio tracks, due to the fact that I use the 360 Add-on and there is no way to pull up the disc details, however, I wouldn’t have known since all of my Warner titles include True HD anyway.

    I think we can agree that LPCM and TrueHD are equals in the world of lossless audio. It’s just a matter of preference, or licensing for the manufacturers. More than the software support, I believe that all of the audio formats should be supported on all players, and of course no one has released one as of yet, so I’m upset with both HD DVD and Blu-ray for dropping the ball on that one.

    However, it seems as though they want the formats to grow and expand, and as they gain further traction they will eventually released a fully stocked player that is equipped to decode every format, and configuration, internally.

    I am definitely upset that we’re not seeing more 6.1 and 7.1 audio tracks on these formats. I thought that these configurations were going to be standard from the get go, but that brings us to the “overkill” argument once more. Standardizing the audio mix is a bit silly when you have a lot of films that would clearly not benefit from the added channels. Not to mention, a lot of film purists prefer to watch their films in the originally intended presentation. Where a film like 300 or Transformers would indeed benefit from having a more expansive/enveloping sound field, few films maintain a fully active sound field throughout, and few films require more than 5.1 channels of audio.

    With that being said, I am upset that we haven’t seen many, if any on HD DVD. I know that Blu-ray has quite a few, but there are some bizarre choices with Waiting and a few other odd titles receiving the star treatment on Blu-ray.

    Oddly enough, DD+ is said to be able to handle up to 13.1 channels of audio! Crazy, huh? I can’t imagine any film utilizing the added speakers, nor do I want to imagine the added cost of the receiver that can handle that many active channels as well as the required additional speakers to deliver the sound.

    So like you I’m sure, I’m caught between being a realist and a dreamer. One half of me cries out for the maximum sound presentation possible, and the other half settles for whatever presentation is most suitable for the film.

    However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a bit more 6.1 support.

  14. Dave Cowl on August 30th, 2007 10:21 am


    How does the add-on deal with TrueHD? Just curious.

    I am sure there are a lot of films that could have (or did have) 7.1 or 6.1 that do not on the HD discs.

    Also, iirc, you can add Paramount to the 1.5 Mbps DD+ group. They actually had ‘better’ audio on most of their HD DVDs than BDs. That said, Blades of Glory was to have lossless on BD and not on HD DVD. But let’s not go there…! :)

  15. Segarsj on August 30th, 2007 10:58 am

    The add-on is a bit funny, at least at first glance. Originally there was no “display” button functionality (as per the remote button) that allows the user to change options with regard to the audio output of HD DVDs and the networking options.

    Until they released this update for the Add-on the sound was considerable softer with the add-on, and some of the original Warner titles were nearly inaudible since they limited the audio levels far more than the typical releases today. The audio issue arose from a dynamic range control that was invisible to the user, but was indefinitely activated until the update, which severely limited the volume/range of the audio output.

    Now we have four options altogether, three output options and the dynamic range control toggle. There is Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and WMA. I performed a lot of blind tests and settled on DTS. I don’t have access to a WMA compliant receiver, but I hear that’s the best output option available to date.

    Naturally, all of these are down mixed, which is a bit upsetting, but since DTS is at 1.5mbits anyway, theoretically you’re not missing out on anything, at least that’s what audiophiles are saying.

    I’m really curious to know whether or not the HDMI output on the premium or the elite offers better reproduction, or if it will eventually allow for bitstream.

    I’ve posted my question, today actually, on a string monitored by Amir, so I’m hoping to get some definitive answers sometime soon.

    I can tell a difference between the DD+ and the TrueHD, but not many of my roommates can. I’m not sure if they don’t have as discerning an ear as I do, or if I’ve convinced myself I hear the difference. Either way, I wish that there were some other way for me to pass the audio to my receiver (which doesn’t feature HDMI) as the optical out is not ideal for these new audio codecs. I would love to use the 5.1 analog inputs, but there is no reason why the 360 would ever release support for that, so my only option seems to be upgrading to a standalone player.

    However, the loading times on the Add-on are incredible. I’ve never noticed any problems, and it seems to load as fast as a regular DVD. A lot of people view this as a huge plus.

    One thing I have noticed, that’s not exclusive to the add-on is the incredibly long loading time for the web-enabled feature menus. I could be wrong, but I think these loading times are across the board. My guess is that the servers that the players are connecting to are not nearly as expansive as they will eventually be, and as such the loading times reflect this. Regardless, the web connectivity only stands to improve and grow on both formats over the next couple of years (provided they live on).

  16. doomfactory on December 18th, 2007 9:36 am

    Actually all DVD players have what’s called "Seamless Branching". If you own a dvd or High-def disc that allows you to select between two versions for example: unrated or theatrical on the same disc it is using seamless branching feature. This technology is not new. Blu-ray just does it truly seamlessly without hiccups.

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