The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas served as a venue for two high-profile candidates to push for their favorite causes. Only here, the candidates were the opposing sides in the high-def disc wars--Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD--and the causes were their respective formats.
Rhetoric about manufacturing costs (true, it's lower for HD DVD versus Blu-ray), video codecs (true, the codecs are the same, though Blu-ray can handle higher bit rates by virtue of its more generous capacity), and audio codecs (a messy issue we'll get into another time) aside, the big news was the announcement of content. Scores of titles were announced at CES, with marquee names being trotted out for this amped-up competition.
HD DVD: Beam Me Up, Scotty
The HD DVD Promotion Group was first with its announcements, which included a healthy array of films from Paramount Pictures, Rhino, Warner Bros., and others.
On Warner's forthcoming HD DVD slate are Alexander Revisted: The Unrated Final Cut, Beerfest, Blood Diamond, Bullitt, Martin Scorsese's The Departed (on HD DVD Combo, with DVD on one side and HD DVD on the other), The Getaway (1972), Happy Feet, Oceans 11, Oceans 12, We Are Marshall, and The Wicker Man. The company also plans to release season sets of The Sopranos.
Perhaps the largest announcement, though, concerned the arrival of the Matrix trilogy and of the Harry Potter films, franchises whose wondrous special effects and highly visual nature make them perfect additions to the high-def world.
Paramount announced only a handful of titles by name: Babel and Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers, plus new iterations of Face/Off and Payback: Straight Up. However, more significant (again for fans of special effects, even the low-budget variety) was the word that the classic Star Trek series, digitally remastered in high-definition, would be coming out on HD DVD Combo discs, so you can play them on either a standard DVD player or an HD DVD one. Kirk, Spock, McCoy...just beam them up, Scotty, to a high-def TV near you.
Universal announced it would bring its Sci-Fi Channel hit Battlestar Galactica to HD DVD this year, another gift to fans of genre storytelling. Also on deck are Children of Men and The Good Shepherd.
Bandai Visual announced that it was joining the HD DVD side, as well; the Japanese company plans to bring numerous anime titles to HD DVD in the coming year.
Rhino announced three titles, all aimed at bringing concerts to life in high definition: Cream: London May 2-3-5-6, 2006, Royal Albert Hall, The Eagles: Farewell 1 Tour, Live From Melbourne, and James Taylor: A MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute.
Curiously, considering that the HD DVD camp claimed it would have at least 300 titles to market in 2007, we saw a rather thin list of titles announced at CES for release in the first quarter. That doesn't mean the titles aren't coming, mind you; it's simply an observation.
One thing HD DVD supporters didn't discuss came as the CES show concluded and as the neighboring AVN show, for the bustling adult-video trade, ramped up. There, word spread that adult studios that had previously announced support for Blu-ray Disc--in part due to the format's gargantuan 50GB capacity--were now shifting their weight behind HD DVD.
Why the switch? Purportedly, Sony's disc duplicators will not replicate adult content on Blu-ray Disc, although the Blu-ray Disc Association is open to adult content being released in its format. (For more, see "HDTV Makes Adult-Movie Stars Nervous" and a video interview with Jenna Jameson.) While this is a strategy on Sony's part, the company would do well to remember what happened more than two decades ago, when the adult-film industry was forced to produce its content on VHS instead of Betamax. (VHS, of course, went on to win that infamous format struggle.)