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HD Emerging Slowly

6 Oct, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

CENTURY CITY. Calif. — Consumers Oct. 10 will be able to buy the first 50GB Blu-ray Disc when Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases Click, the studio announced Oct. 6 at the High Def 101 Conference.

With twice the capacity of a regular Blu-ray Disc, the dual-layer disc promises to deliver the interactivity and extras that backers of the optical-disc format have been promising.

Click is one of three 50GB Blu-ray Discs in Sony's pipeline. The others are Black Hawk Down (Nov. 14) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Dec. 12).“As consumers make the leap to Blu-ray's incredible high-definition picture and theater-quality audio, they want access to a diverse selection of content packed with added-value features,” said Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president David Bishop. “We're proud to be the first studio to deliver a 50GB Blu-ray Disc to the marketplace with Click, along with two other highly entertaining titles this year that offer the expanded capacity and special features only a 50GB disc can provide.”

Two other studios are prepping 50GB discs for this year. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing Kingdom of Heaven Nov. 14, and Warner Home Video is expected to announce that its next wave of Blu-ray titles, streeting Oct. 31, will include one or more dual-layer discs.

In December, Lionsgate will release the thriller The Descent on a 50GB Blu-ray disc, making it the flagship of high-definition releases for the studio, said Miguel Casillas, VP of DVD production for Lionsgate.

“We're going to include everything and the kitchen sink,” he said. “And we'll give the consumer the option to explore the features as much as they want to or as little.”

Because of its greater capacity, Sony's Blu-ray Click will include all the extras from the DVD, in high-def, as well as uncompressed PCM audio. Bonus features include star, director and producer commentary; four deleted scenes; and seven featurettes, including a documentary on the film's special effects and a “Director's Take”).

Black Hawk Down will be the first title to feature Sony's new “Blu-Wizard” playlist technology, which lets viewers customize the way they watch special features. Extras include an audio commentary with author Mark Bowden, screenwriter Ken Nolan, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Ridley Scott and U.S. Special Forces Veterans '93; and six making-of documentaries.

Talladega Nights comes with nine deleted and extended scenes, all in high-definition; an audio commentary with director Adam McKay and others; bonus race footage; a gag reel; three interviews; “Ricky & Cal” commercials and PSAs; a featurette on Will Ferrell returning to Talladega; and various other extras.

Also at High Def 101 — produced by Home Media Retailing in cooperation with The Hollywood Reporter, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group and the Entertainment Merchants Association — Warner Home Video announced revised HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales projections.

Because of a slower-than-expected rollout of hardware as well as software, the new projections are lower than what the original forecast was at the beginning of this year, said Steve Nickerson, Warner's SVP of market management.

As of Sept. 30, consumers had spent $25 million on the three HD players in the market — two HD DVD units from Toshiba, priced at $499 and $799, and one Blu-ray Disc player, from Samsung, priced at $999 — and $5 million on software, Nickerson said.

Warner projects that by the end of the year, consumers will have spent $750 million on hardware and $150 million on software for total of $900 million. Earlier in the year, Warner projected combined sales of $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion.

But there's a second Blu-ray player already on the market, Nickerson noted. Two weeks ago, Panasonic quietly shipped its first BD player to select high-end specialty stores only. Players from Philips, Sony and Pioneer are expected within a month, as well as two second-generation HD DVD players from Toshiba, Nickerson said. Next year will see the release of the first Blu-ray/HD DVD combo player, he said.

Part of the discrepancy between reality and Warner's projections is due to those projections being based on release announcements that there would be five Blu-ray players in the market by now and significantly more numbers of the PlayStation 3 gaming platform shipped, Nickerson said.

The PS3 launch should be a significant boost for Blu-ray adoption in the United States and Japan, where the platform will arrive on schedule, albeit in rather short supply, said Helen Davis Jayalath, senior video analyst for international research firm Screen Digest.

It's harder to bank on Microsoft's HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360, she said. Screen Digest estimates only 10% of Xbox gamers will invest in the $199 HD DVD extra.

It was important to get high-def formats out to keep the revenue stream going for home video, she said. But, she warned, if studios allow the price of HD DVD and Blu-ray discs to decay as rapidly as standard DVD, which has dropped 40% over the past several years, the industry won't be able to maintain revenue growth.

It all starts with the TV, and HDTV households stand to hit 25 million by year's end, if not 30 million, Nickerson said.

There are stumbling blocks there, too, panelists and presenters said at the conference, not the least of which are the myriad HDTV options and those complicated connections to high-def players and receivers.

Alarmingly, one-third of a batch of 1,100 early-adopter HDTV owners the DEG polled didn't even know what kind of TV they had, said Amy Jo Smith, executive director for DEG.

Form is often more of a factor than function, said Davis Jayalath and fellow analyst Kervin Henry from analyst firm GfK International.

In Western Europe especially, HDTV shoppers are buying more for fashion issues at home rather than because they plan to actually subscribe to HDTV programming, both Davis Jayalath and Henry said.

That's a great opportunity for high-def players, Davis Jayalath said. Shoppers who buy HDTV sets for the wow factor will gravitate to the new player formats more quickly than they do to over-the air, cable or satellite HD programming, she said.

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