The Format War Heats Up
You'd have to have been living under a rock for the past week to not know that Paramount has surprisingly announced that henceforth it will release exclusively on HD DVD. To say this move was unexpected would be the understatement of the year. As one of only two of the major studios to be format neutral, for Paramount to suddenly drop Blu-ray is, at the risk of yet another understatement, a big deal. More than that, though, it seems somewhat inexplicable. With Blu-ray sales beating HD DVD by 2:1, for Paramount to willingly leave so much money on the table just looks like bad business.
That is, it would be bad business if everything were equal between HD DVD and Blu-ray. And they're not. Despite similar prices at retailers, Blu-rays actually cost more to produce than HD DVDs. Looked in that light, Blu-rays 2:1 lead doesn't look as impressive. More than that, the 2:1 lead is in software, but in hardware, thanks to the PS3, Blu-ray actually has a 5:1 lead. What does that mean? It means that owners of HD DVD players are buying more content per person than the owners of Blu-ray players. From a studio's point of view, that's built in customer loyalty right there.
Blades of Glory, now available only on HD DVD.
Paramount was creating separate video encodes for the different formats, which meant additional expense on top of the production costs. In a recent article in the publication "Video Business," Paramount home theater president Kelley Avery mentioned not just higher production costs, but also the complexity of creating content for Blu-ray as prime reasons for the switch. Where's the advantage in selling more if it's costing you more in time and money than the lower selling format? In this case, the raw numbers mean less than the net profits, especially when Blu-rays sales lead is in the thousands or hundreds of thousands and not the millions as it still is for DVD.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention the fact that Paramount and Dreamworks are getting a collective $150 million from the HD DVD group to drop Blu-ray. Blu-ray supporters have made a big stink about this, claiming that these are unfair tactics and will prevent the full adoption of either format. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. It's no secret that Sony has offered incentives to several of the major studios in order to achieve Blu-ray support. Or why else would it be that Disney, who originally announced intentions to release in both formats and actually helped develop HDi (HD DVD's interactive component) eventually dropped HD DVD in favor of Blu-ray exclusively? Or why is it that Paramount, which originally planned to be HD DVD exclusive, ended up being neutral when they first started releasing discs? Let's face it, none of these studios will ever be in the dictionary under the word "innocence." Incentives, financial or otherwise, are par for the course, and Blu-ray supporters have no right to complain now that Sony's own tactics are being used against them.
Spider-Man 3, on the other hand, will only be available on Blu-ray.
The only complaint I give any real credence to is that Paramount's move is anti-consumer. I can't disagree with this, as I think all the studios should be neutral and just let the consumers decide. But if we're going to level this accusation at Paramount, we'd really have to do the same to Sony, Universal, Disney, and Fox. All of these studios are engaging in anti-consumer tactics while they remain format exclusive. We should all be working towards a fair, open market, but that doesn't to be much of a reality at this point. Too much potential money is at stake for too many companies.
So now, if you want to own Transformers or Shrek 3 or Stardust in high definition, you either take the plunge and buy an HD DVD player, or you don't see it. It's not the most attractive choice for some, but it's the same one many HD DVD supporters had to make when they decided whether or not they wanted Casino Royale or Pirates of the Caribbean in high definition. And like it or not, Paramount's move has given HD DVD room to maneuver. I don't see this war going away anytime soon. Things sure are heating up.
This month we have an extremely exciting giveaway from DVD Empire to celebrate their 10th anniversary.
DVD Empire was one of the first online stores to get HD DVD and Blu-Ray sections up and running and they continue to be a leader in next generation formats.
So we're happy to bring you this fantastic 'Choose Your High-Def Format and Win' Giveaway. One lucky winner who votes will get to either a HD DVD or Blu-Ray a player in the format they choose and 10 titles to start their new high-def collection.
Enter now for your chance to win. Be sure to choose either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD! (You can ONLY choose one, but You Must Choose)
High Definition News
In response to Paramount's exclusivity announcement, Fox finally came out of hiding to announce their slate of fall Blu-ray titles. According to the Fox press release, "the majority" of their upcoming titles will be on 50GB discs with AVC encoding, lossless audio, and interactive BD-J features. Let's hope it's true, because I could not stand Fox's overpriced barebones discs with DTS-HD MA audio that no player can decode. The announced releases are as follows:
Master & Commander Oct. 2
The Day After Tomorrow Oct. 2
From Hell Oct. 9
The Fly (1986) Oct. 9
Edward Scissorhands Oct. 9
28 Days Later Oct. 9
Robocop (MGM) Oct. 9
Amityville Horror (1979) (MGM) Oct. 9
Battle of Britain (MGM) Nov. 6
A Bridge Too Far (MGM) Nov. 6
I, Robot Nov. 13
Die Hard Nov.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder Nov.
Die Hard With A Vengeance Nov.
Red Dawn (MGM) Nov.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith Dec. 4
Independence Day Dec. 4
Cast Away Dec. 4
Ronin (MGM) Dec. 4
Also announced were 28 Weeks Later
, Live Free or Die Hard
, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
, and Prison Break
Amazon.com is offering some great deals for people who are looking to either get in to one or both formats. You can get a Toshiba HD-A2 and eight movies (yes, EIGHT movies) for $211. Considering most people say their magic price point for a player by itself is $200, to get the player plus a batch of free discs for $11 more (and no tax or shipping) should be a deal no one can pass up. On the Blu-ray side, you can get a PS3 and eight free movies for $472.04. Obviously that's more money than the HD DVD deal, but the PS3 costs more to begin with and is an extremely versatile and powerful multimedia and video gaming machine. No matter which side of the fence you want to fall on (or if you've decided to go neutral), this is a great way to get started and have a small library to boot.
High Definition Upcoming Releases
Delta Farce (Blu-ray)
Nip/Tuck Season 4 (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Remember the Titans (Blu-ray)
Face/Off (HD DVD)
Nature's Journey (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Wings of Honneamise (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
The Condemned (Blu-ray)
David Gilmour Remember (Blu-ray)
Deliverance (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Elizabeth (HD DVD)
A Few Good Men (Blu-ray)
Flashdance (HD DVD)
For the Love of the Game (HD DVD)
House of 1,000 Corpses (Blu-ray)
Jailhouse Rock (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
The Last Starfighter (HD DVD)
Saturday Night Fever (HD DVD)
Smallville Season 6 (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Troy (Director's Cut) (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Viva Las Vegas (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
We Are Marshall (Blu-ray, HD DVD)
Zodiac (HD DVD)
HD DVD and Blu-ray Reviews
This week we have a special review as our very own Das Monkey takes a look at the Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player. According to Das, "The Panasonic DMP-BD10 performs admirably in its primary function of delivering high definition video and high resolution audio. As a Blu-ray player, it is excellent and provides fantastic video and audio. As a DVD player, the quality is very good, but that performance is undercut by its failure to play certain titles. In this review, I've mentioned numerous minor issues that I found irritating or frustrating, but almost all of those are cosmetic and can be overlooked when compared against more important factors." But readers should note that Panasonic has now released the DMP-BD10A, which is virtually the same player, but for half the price. Thanks Das!
The Panasonic DMP-BD10A, the player Das Monkey really wants you to buy.
Now, on to our regularly scheduled reviews:
- Heroes - Season 1 (HD DVD) by Daniel Hirshleifer. Highly Recommended. - "Heroes rightfully deserved to be a mega hit. It's got everything you need for good television: Identifiable characters, excellent plots, humor, drama, and super powers! The series' few flaws aren't bad enough to turn people away, but the image quality on this HD DVD might. The transfer is maddeningly uneven, going from very good to downright awful and back again. Luckily, Universal has eased the pain by stuffing this seven-disc set to the brim with features, many of them exclusive to the HD DVD version. So while I'm not happy about the picture, the glut of supplements makes this the superior home video version of this compulsively watchable show."
- The Lookout (Blu-ray) by Adam Tyner. Highly Recommended. - "The Lookout is a solid character-driven thriller, propelled by another in an increasing number of tremendous performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The selection of extras is somewhat light, but The Lookout looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray, and it's a film well worth discovering in high definition."
- 300 (HD DVD) by John Sinnott. DVD Talk Collector Series. - "This is a fantastic package. This HD DVD boasts a thrilling, exciting movie with an absolutely gorgeous transfer and a powerful yet accurate soundtrack. On top of that there are copious extras. Not fluffy HBO behind-the-scenes pieces but substantial featurettes that explain how the film was made, look into the historical background of the story, and reveal what the creators were trying to accomplish. This is one of the best releases so far in 2007 and easily gets a DVDTalk Collector Series rating."
- National Lampoon's Van Wilder (Blu-ray) by Matthew Hinkley. Rent It. - "So, Van Wilder is not the best movie in the world. It is definitely worth watching if you enjoy teen gross-out comedies. The video is awful and the sound is great! The features are packed full, but boring. If you don't own this then you might justify the purchase only if you love the film. Everyone else just rent it for the laughs, or if you already own it on DVD then stay away."
- Shaun of the Dead (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Highly Recommended. - "Between the two next-gen formats, we're getting Shaun of the Dead, both the original and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and Romero's Day of the Dead all in the space of a couple of months. Toss in last year's Land of the Dead and the kinda-sorta-not-really-zombie-flicks in the Evil Dead series on HD DVD and Blu-ray, and it's a great time to be a home theater nut who takes entirely too much pleasure in watching hordes of the undead devour the living. Shaun of the Dead is a blood-spattered valentine to George Romero, standing out not just as a hell of a comedy but one of the all-time best zombie flicks. The HD DVD looks and sounds fantastic, and even if the extras are the same as the last go-around and aren't as comprehensive as the British release, there are still plenty of bells and whistles to chew on."
- Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within (Blu-ray) by Daniel Hirshleifer. Rent It. - "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within deserved a better fate than it got at the box office, but that doesn't mean it's a great movie. While it certainly was a great technological breakthrough, it didn't have the story or characters to make it work. This Blu-ray edition looks incredible at its best, but some image flaws keep it from being perfect. The sound is very active and a significant improvement over the DVD version. As far as extras go, this release ports over some but not all of the supplements from the DVD version, and a few of the omissions are rather glaring. Still, there's enough here to make the disc worth at least one viewing."
- TMNT (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Highly Recommended. - "In between the few hundred thousand anthropomorphic forest critters with beaming grins and poppy dance numbers that have littered theaters over the past couple of years, it's such a welcomed change to see a blazingly fast-paced animated action flick like TMNT roar onto the big screen. This first salvo of the reinvigorated franchise should appeal to fans like myself who still remember tuning into that five episode miniseries twenty years ago as well as kids reared on the most recent Saturday morning incarnation. The meager extras and the bloated $39.99 sticker price may leave some leaning more towards a rental or twiddling their thumbs for a price drop, but fans who missed TMNT during its theatrical run should definitely consider giving the movie a look in high-def."
- Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (Blu-ray) by John Sinnott. Recommended. - "Easily the best of the Marvel direct-to-video animated movies released so far, Doctor Strange had a great origin story but fell in other parts. The show lacked the WOW factor that it should have had, and they added some pretty stupid plot points just because they could. While this doesn't come close to the best Doctor Strange comics, it was generally fun to watch. I just wish they had tightened the script up a bit and didn't try to "re-imagine" the character. Fans of Marvel comics can get this without having to worry too much."
- Erin Brockovich (HD DVD) by Don Houston. Recommended. - "Erin Brockovich was a title that legal buffs might enjoy more than the everyday folks but for all the later flack the movie drew from the people of Hinkley and legal analysts, it provided an interesting drama regardless of historical accuracy. Julia has provided more interesting roles since this came out seven years ago but Albert Finney stole virtually every scene he was in, especially those including the drab townsfolk that could have phoned in their roles. In that sense, Erin Brockovich HD DVD might be the type of high definition movie you can show your anti-corporate, tree hugging friends, the kind that avails themselves of all the modern conveniences while blaming every ailment they get on others. As far as whether it might be worth a double dip for those of you that already own a copy, my SD version cleaned up a bit when up converted but it was a nice enough difference if you truly love the movie as some have claimed to me over the years."
- Blue Planet (Blu-ray) by Daniel Hirshleifer. Recommended. - "Blue Planet was probably a real eye-popper back when it first debuted in IMAX. But the ravages of time have taken their toll on the film, and the image on this Blu-ray is not as good as it could have been. However, the bonus feature, The Dream is Alive, is a fantastic IMAX documentary that still holds up today and looks and sounds excellent in full HD and lossless audio. The Blu-ray and HD DVD editions are exactly the same in every way. No matter which format you choose, the real draw here is The Dream is Alive. Because of its inclusion, this disc is recommended."
- Mercury Rising (HD DVD) by Matthew Hinkley. Recommended. - "So Mercury Rising might not be the most amazing, thought-provoking movie but it is plenty fun for a good night out. The acting is strong, and there is plenty of action to keep us watching throughout. The video and audio is great...just not quite as perfect as some of the "newer" releases that are out there. Definitely don't get this one for the special features, but I can easily recommend this one for fans, and those who want a good entertaining flick with great audio and video."
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