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UPDATE: Fox Declares for Blu-ray

29 Jul, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

In a move that's been expected for nearly a year, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has thrown its support behind the Sony-developed Blu-ray Disc format, creating an even divide among the six studios between the dueling next-generation optical disc formats.

Fox, a member of the board of directors of the Blu-ray Disc Association since last October, had been rumored to be supporting Blu-ray as long ago as the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but the studio made no official statement until today.

Fox joins Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (with MGM) on the Blu-ray side, which touts greater capacity and widespread support amongst consumer electronics manufacturers. Blu-ray also will be the platform for Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3.

Toshiba's HD DVD is supported by Warner Home Video (with New Line and HBO), Paramount Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. HD DVD has been in development since 2000, when then-Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb, the so-called father of DVD, learned Sony was quietly working on a high-definition successor to DVD and asked Toshiba to intercede. The resulting HD DVD format is based more closely on current DVD standards for which Toshiba and Warner, among others, have copyrights and patents.

It was Lieberfarb's contention at the time that a completely new technology would be too expensive for Hollywood to swallow, and that remains a key issue behind the support today for HD DVD. Blu-ray discs are thicker and store data differently than DVD discs; as a result, their manufacture would require new equipment and a complete overhaul of existing DVD plants.That would make the discs costlier to produce than HD DVD, backers of that format charge, adding an estimated 5 cents per disc. Today's DVDs cost about 80 cents to produce, a figure that includes packaging.

Fox, however, was swayed not so much by Blu-ray's higher capacity but by the format's promise of better copy protection. At the just-concluded Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) convention, Fox EVP of sales Simon Swart estimated piracy takes an annual bite of up to $5 billion out of domestic home video revenues, or 20 percent of the total.—a figure that's been steadily rising these last few years.

In a statement, Fox said the Blu-ray companies “fully embrace the studio's steadfast commitment to the fight against piracy and the preservation of the integrity of its properties. In fact, Fox's commitment to publish on Blu-ray is a direct result of the organization's recent adoption of copyright protection measures, including renewable security, that address the needs and concerns of the studio and the entire Hollywood community.”

A statement from the HD DVD camp issued later in the day said Fox's implication that Blu-ray's copy protection was somehow superior was "misleading."

"The content protection system of HD DVD provides an equivalent level of security as the system advocated by Fox for Blu-ray," said the statement. "We also believe the Blu-ray disc format and proposed copy protection system may result in playability and reliability issues for the consumer.

"HD DVD provides robust, renewable and standardized content protection coupled with proven reliability, cost effectiveness and flexibility which is why many major film studios have announced support for the HD DVD format."

Meanwhile, Fox said it feels Blu-ray also offers the studio more creative freedom, according to Fox brass. “The most important thing to the studio is that we continue to provide the best possible presentation of our films,” said Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, chairmen of Fox Filmed Entertainment. “Creative advances in movie-making technology have consistently helped raise the bar in films today and with the Blu-ray Disc the bar has now been raised for the home-viewing experience.”Fox home entertainment president Mike Dun calls Blu-ray “a superior high-definition technology that is a full step forward in the evolution of consumer packaged media.”

Additional reporting by Holly J. Wagner

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