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UPDATE: Paramount Will Support Blu-ray Disc

2 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

In a move insiders say may end a format war before any hardware or software even hits the market, Paramount Home Entertainment Sunday announced its support of the Blu-ray Disc format.

While the studio has not backed down from its previous commitment to release titles on HD DVD, Blu-ray now counts four of the six major studios in its camp—Paramount, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment — along with Lions Gate Entertainment.

Of the two majors — Warner Home Video and Universal Studios Home Entertainment — that are still only in the HD DVD camp, Warner may be next to jump ship, sources speculate. In a press release last week from Microsoft and Intel in which the two computer giants voiced their support for HD DVD, only Paramount and Universal were listed as studio supporters. Warner was conspicuously absent.

Paramount's support gives the Sony-developed Blu-ray format a decided leg up on its Toshiba-backed rival, both of which are vying to become the standard next-generation, high-definition optical disc format, succeeding DVD. Both use a blue laser rather than the red laser used by DVD, and both can hold significantly more data — up to five times the amount of current DVDs.

Thomas Lesinski, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, said he's been “intrigued” by the mounting wave of support for Blu-ray, “especially the key advantage of including Blu-ray in PlayStation 3.”

Since coming out for HD DVD and participating, with Warner Home Video and Universal Studios Home Entertainment, in a celebratory product preview party at last January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Paramount has reconsidered its earlier position.

“After more detailed assessment and new data on cost, manufacturability and copy-protection solutions, we have now made the decision to move ahead with the Blu-ray format,” Lesinski said.

Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and an ardent supporter of Blu-ray, said he is “very encouraged” by the Paramount move, calling it “further evidence that Blu-ray is moving toward a successful hard launch with massive studio support.”

He's already drafted software launch plans, timed with the launch of Blu-ray hardware, which he said could come “as early as February and as late as April.” Sony will release between 50 and 100 catalog titles within the first nine months of Blu-ray being in the market, Feingold said, plus additional titles from the MGM library.

In addition, Feingold said, “all new Sony theatrical films will be released on Blu-ray day-and-date with DVD and UMD.”

Warren Lieberfarb, the former Warner Home Video president credited as being the “father of DVD” and now a de facto spokesman for HD DVD, expressed surprise at the Paramount move, of which he said he had no inkling.

Other than that, however, he had no immediate comment. “When I have something to say, I will say it,” Lieberfarb said.

Since the CES gala, the momentum has certainly shifted toward Blu-ray. Not only did Fox and Lions Gate join Sony and Buena Vista in promising software support, but the promise of limited hardware availability subsequently prompted Paramount, Universal and Warner to push their planned fourth-quarter software launch into next year, with no specific titles or dates given. Casting a further pall on HD DVD was the fact that Microsoft's Xbox 360, scheduled to arrive in U.S. stores in late November, would not be HD DVD-capable, as supporters of the format had hoped.

Last week, any momentum that might have been gained by the Microsoft and Intel announcement was cut short a day later when Toshiba, the primary developer of HD DVD, announced it would not have a player ready by Christmas after all, despite months of hype about a big fourth-quarter hardware launch. Toshiba now says a player won't arrive in U.S. stores until February 2006, at the earliest.

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