Is Blu-ray Finally Becoming A Platform?

One of the big trends emerging from this year’s CES is that Blu-ray is starting to become more than just a better-looking replacement for DVDs. DivX (s DIVX) announced its new DivX TV platform yesterday that will bring Internet content straight to Blu-ray devices, including the upcoming LG (s LGLD) NetCast players. Vudu revealed partnerships with CE makers that include embedding the company’s app on various Blu-ray players, and L.A.-based Dreamer Corporation is demoing its new BluTV service that could become an online content portal for any BD-Live compatible player.

At first, this growing list of announcements just reads like a crowded marketplace with lots of players trying to become the middleman for online video in the living room. And while an eventual shake-up seems inevitable, there’s also a more profound development going on here. Blu-ray is growing up, moving beyond the disk.

DivX is a good example for this shift. The company previously tried its luck with launching its own line of set-top boxes dubbed DivX Connected in cooperation with D-Link, but those efforts went nowhere as most consumers resisted the idea of adding yet another box to their living room set-up. Now DivX is giving the push towards the TV screen another try, together with partners like LG, Viewsonic and Broadcom (s BRCM). DivX TV currently offers content from CNet, Revision3, Dailymotion, Twitter and others. All in all, there’s about 70 different content sources to choose from, according to company information. LG will demo the platform at its CES booth and is expected to make DivX TV available to existing NetCast players through a Blu-ray firmware update later this year.

Dreamer on the other hand is taking a little bit of a different approach. The company has yet to announce any partnerships with CE manufacturers, but it has a different trick up its sleeves. BluTV is compatible with any BD-Live compatible player, including Sony’s (s SNE) PS3, and the necessary software to access the company’s BluTV platform can be delivered straight to end users. Just pop a disk into your player, and you’ll be able to load up the BluTV app, offering access to video services and social networks.

Bypassing CE makers sounds unusual, but it could actually be a smart approach because it gives the company the liberty to be less restrictive about its own platform. VUDU told us yesterday that it’s tightly controlling access to its platform to make sure there’s not going to be anything inappropriate on your brand-name Blu-ray player or connected TV set. Dreamer, on the other hand, is taking a phased approach, as General Manager Perry Weinstein told me. Initially, only a few partners will have access to the BluTV SDK. “Following that rollout, we will open it up to the general public,” Weinstein explained. The same goes for editorial control. First, any app will be reviewed, but eventually BluTV is meant to be as open as the web.

Sounds familiar, right? Boxee has also been touting itself as a sort of web browser for video, going as far as actually integrating a browser to access sites like The difference is obviously that Boxee has so far only been available for PCs. The company now aims to change that with today’s launch of the Boxee Box. Question is: Will enough consumers be willing to spend close to $200 just to watch web video on the big screen?

Internet set-top boxes have so far been a niche product. Blu-ray players, on the other hand, are starting to reach a mass audience. The New York Times reported in December that 7 percent of all U.S. households now own a Blu-ray player. That number doesn’t even include the PS3s yet, but Sony announced yesterday that it sold it 1.7 million PS3s during the fourth quarter of ’09 in the U.S. alone.

Granted, adding Internet video to these devices isn’t completely new. Samsung added Netflix streaming to a number of its Blu-ray players more than a year ago. However, developments like BluTV could take this one step further by allowing anyone to develop apps for Blu-ray players, turning the DVD successor into a real online video platform.