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HD DVD Launches, Kornblau Praises Interactivity

19 Apr, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Marking the inaugural roll-out of HD DVD, Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, previewed the next-generation optical-disc format Tuesday, April 18, with an HD version of King Kong.

HD DVD players and software went on sale Tuesday, April 18, at Best Buy and select other retailers. A trickle of early adopters came to buy, even though only three movies were available the day players arrived.

More HD DVD titles will begin hitting stores this week, but with only three — Warner Home Video's The Last Samurai and The Phantom of the Opera and Universal Studios Home Entertainment's Serenity — in stores when players hit the show floor April 18, there was hardly a stampede of consumers.

When a Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif., opened at 10 a.m., four copies of The Last Samurai and a single copy of The Phantom of the Opera were stocked in a display at the front of the store, equipped with a lounge chair and a high-definition TV. A customer looked at the two titles but bought neither, saying he was disappointed by the selection.

A nearby Fry's Electronics store had The Last Samurai and The Phantom of the Opera in endcaps, but no player on display.

Toshiba, which is in the process of shipping about 10,000 players to retailers, had no firm initial sales tally, although sources said Best Buy sold about 1,000 players across its 733 stores the first day players were on display. Other retailers carrying the two Toshiba players, priced at $499 and $799, include Sears, Tweeters and Costco. Circuit City is selling software through its Web site and soon will carry a Toshiba-made player, under the RCA brand, at its stores.

“Retailers who have received players to date have reported very positive sales,” said Toshiba marketing VP Jodi Sally. “I am very pleased to see the demand for high-definition content being fulfilled to the early adopters with our HD DVD players.”

“We are continuing to ship our HD DVD players, as well as replenish orders,” Sally said late April 19. ”The major accounts are already nearly sold out of their initial shipments of the $499 model. To keep up with the demand, we will be receiving additional incoming product via air freight from overseas.”

Meanwhile, elaborate kiosks with huge widescreen TVs, explanatory boards and a handful of players and movies are going into about 100 Wal-Mart stores over the next two weeks, an unusually aggressive move by a retailer focused on the masses. The discount chain didn't begin selling DVD players until the spring of 1999, two years after the DVD format was launched.

Wal-Mart also has begun selling the cheaper of the two Toshiba players, the HD-A1, on its Web site, listing an anticipated delivery date of April 21. The player is on sale for $498, a dollar off the list price.

Only three studios are supporting HD DVD, and of those three, only Universal is exclusively in the HD DVD camp. The two other studios, Warner Home Video and Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, also have said they will release titles in the rival Blu-ray Disc format, which has not yet launched.

Blu-ray enjoys the support of five of the six majors, plus mini-major Lionsgate. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment are exclusively supporting Blu-ray, as is Lionsgate.

Warner and Universal have HD DVD product in the market, while Paramount won't release its first high-def titles until next month.

Universal this week will release Apollo 13 and Doom, followed by Jarhead, Cinderella Man and Assault on Precinct 13 on May 9 and The Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy, Van Helsing and U-571 on May 23.

Warner had intended on releasing four titles April 18, but quality-control issues held up the release of Million Dollar Baby. The studio's next wave of HD DVD releases will hit stores May 2, according to Steve Nickerson, the studio's SVP of market management.

Studios are shipping fewer than 10,000 copies of each title, in accordance with Toshiba's initial shipment of about 10,000 players.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau, who has taken the lead in promoting the HD DVD format, held a special press screening at his Universal City offices in which he demonstrated the format's superior picture and sound. He stressed, however, that the format's real trump card is its heightened interactivity.

On a sample disc, menus appeared on the side, and special features could be accessed while the movie is playing. Multi-angle options, too, may be previewed, all at one time, and with filmmaker cooperation, most movies ultimately should be available for viewing in multiple angles.

“We're in the HD DVD camp because you can touch it and you can feel it,” Kornblau said. “It's here, and it's real.”

Marketing EVP Ken Graffeo said in the fourth quarter several Universal titles will push the envelope when it comes to creativity. In a movie that prominently features a car, he said, viewers might be able to customize that car, and then plant their creation into the movie.

“Through Internet connectivity, you might even be able to click on the tire and find out the specs and even be able to buy that tire,” he said.

Additional reporting by Home Media Retailing senior reporter Erik Gruenwedel and sections editor Brendan Howard.

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