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HD DVD Backers Unveil Release Plan

5 Jan, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Universal's The 40-Year-Old Virgin

LAS VEGAS — HD DVD backers are hoping the second time's the charm.

For the second consecutive year, supporters of what is now the underdog next-generation optical-disc format have used the Consumer Electronics Show in January as a platform to announce grandiose launch plans later in the year.

Problem was, last time around nothing materialized. The three major studios that had vowed plentiful software support backed down, saying they didn't believe the market was ready. And consumer electronics makers that had displayed prototype set-top players at the show retreated as well, including Toshiba, which had developed HD DVD to counter Sony's Blu-ray Disc.

Will this year be any different? While last year at this time the playing field was level, this year the momentum in the quest to develop and bring to market a standard high-definition successor to DVD unquestionably belongs to Blu-ray. The format has the backing of five of the six major studios, three of them exclusively. It also is favored by most consumer electronics manufacturers and computer firms.

Hardware and software supporters were out in full force, and dozens of titles were announced.

But HD DVD is not yet down for the count — hence, another festive press event in Las Vegas, this one at the posh new Wynn Hotel and Casino.

This time, Toshiba says it definitely will have a pair of players in U.S. retail stores in March.

The new HD DVD players, HD-XA1 and HD-A1, are in sync with high-def specs approved by the DVD Forum. They offer clearer visuals and sound than standard DVD, as well as various functional enhancements such as Advanced Navigation.

On the software side, Warner Home Video — which also supports Blu-ray — announced the most ambitious slate of HD DVD titles.

The studio unveiled a "confirmed list" of 24 titles that will hit the market beginning March 28, "in conjunction with the initial deliveries of HD DVD players,” according to division president Ron Sanders.

“We are pleased to confirm the availability of 24 titles, which will enable consumers to start building their high definition libraries," he said.

The initial batch of HD DVD titles from Warner includes such recent big DVD releases as Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as such catalog staples as The Matrix, Twister and Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment, the only studio still exclusively committed to HD DVD, announced 10 HD DVD titles, the same number as Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment had announced Tuesday.

Universal's slate includes Jarhead, Doom, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Cinderella Man, Serenity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Chronicles of Riddick, U-571, Van Helsing and Apollo 13.

"The launch of HD DVD marks a new era in the evolution of home entertainment," said division president Craig Kornblau. "With its superior image quality, greater storage capacity and unparalleled movie offerings, the format promises to exceed consumers' highest expectations and deliver the ultimate experience in visual entertainment."

Bob and Harvey Weinstein's newly formed studio The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today it will support the HD DVD format.

The Weinstein Company's DVD releases will include the psychological thriller Derailed, The Libertine, Transamerica, Mrs. Henderson Presents, the CGI-animated Hoodwinked, Wolf Creek, The Matador, Lucky Number Slevin, Breaking And Entering, Decameron, Last Legion, Young Hannibal, Scary Movie 4, Sin City 2, Pulse; a new film from Kevin Smith called Passion Of The Clerks; Killshot, Awake, School For Scoundrels and Grind House, which pairs filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

Holly J. Wagner contributed to this story.

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