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Sony beefs up Blu-ray strategy

New real-time movie database, called MovieIQ, will be included with several new Blu-ray Disc releases this fall. Plus, a new Blu-ray-enabled notebook.

Sony Vaio Blu-ray
The new Blu-ray-enabled Vaio notebook starts at $879. Erica Ogg/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Even as Blu-ray Disc and Blu-ray player sales are growing, Sony is looking to build out its larger strategy surrounding the company's high-definition disc products.

At a small press event here Thursday, the company introduced a new feature of BD-Live and a new piece of Blu-ray hardware.

MovieIQ will be included on some high-profile releases from Sony starting in September. It's essentially IMDb live--while a movie is playing, facts about casting, directors, production, and actors' filmographies pop up onscreen. It's powered not by IMDb, but by Gracenote, creators of CDDB, which Sony purchased just over a year ago.

It's the kind of feature intended to keep people from pausing a movie and hopping online to ask questions like, "I totally recognize that actress, but from what movie?" It's also meant to build on the inherent capability of Blu-ray players that have Internet access. Sony has tried to do this by allowing BD-Live access to exclusive trailers and some trivia games, but MovieIQ seems like something that users would engage with repeatedly, not something they'd just use once and forget about.

A senior Sony exec at the event, Tracy Garvin, called MovieIQ the "first killer-app for BD-Live." That sounded like an admission that none of the BD-Live features thus far have been all that compelling.

It's clear Sony is still in the process of fine-tuning its BD-Live strategy. At the event, Sony Vice President Rich Marty said that while 37 million Blu-ray Discs were sold in 2008, the company has only released about 100 titles that are BD-Live enabled. In other words they still have a long way to go.

"BD-Live is complementary to Blu-ray," he said Thursday. "It was never meant to compete with the Web, it's not a VOD (video on demand) play. We're still building the foundation."

Part of building that foundation is bringing down the cost of Blu-ray players. While the PlayStation 3 is still generally regarded as the best deal on a Blu-ray player from a top-tier electronics company, other brands sell players for as low as $99 or $199 these days. But Sony is also pushing Blu-ray drives in notebooks. While Dell, Sony, Acer, and Asus have dutifully jumped in offering the drives, Sony says the prices are still too high.

So Thursday, the company introduced its Vaio NW series notebook, which starts at $879 with Blu-ray inside, but is $799 without it. It's considered a budget notebook for Sony--it's not the cheapest Blu-ray-enabled notebook out there, but it is for Sony. Some features of the NW Series include a 15.4-inch screen, an HDMI port, and a quick-start Splashtop button for booting directly to the Web if the computer is turned off. It will go on sale later this month.

Corrected on June 19 at 8:36 a.m.: Tracy Garvin's name was initially misspelled in this post.