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Warner Exec Says HD DVD Titles May Be Delayed

12 Mar, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The much-ballyhooed launch this month of the next-generation HD DVD format promises to be more of a whimper than a bang.

Warner Home Video, the only studio which in January had set a firm date, March 28, for its first HD DVD titles to arrive in stores, now says it may not be ready in time due to technical issues.

“To be honest, the outlook is tenuous — we're still coming out with an initial slate, but we may be a week or two later; we just don't know,” said division president Ron Sanders.

Wal-Mart had been taking advance orders for the first slate of Warner titles on its Web site since mid-February, but beginning March 8 customers were notified their orders had been canceled.

“That's because they had published prices, and we haven't set prices,” Sanders said.

Wal-Mart was selling most of the titles, like Batman Begins and Million Dollar Baby, for $25.48, discounted from a list price the retailer pegged at $29.98.

Best Buy, too, reportedly had to pull Warner HD DVD titles from its weekly circular.

Toshiba still is demonstrating its two HD DVD players — the company's road show hits Los Angeles March 15, with a demonstration at the Fry's in the City of Industry — and vows to stick by its original promise to have players in stores by the end of this month.

“Everything is still the same,” said Toshiba spokesman Alejandro Arango.

But so far it appears those will be the only players on the market, at least for the time being. In the nearly three months since Toshiba announced its players, not a single other consumer electronics manufacturer has chimed in.

Moreover, sources report only 10,000 Toshiba players are being shipped to retailers initially, a number that indicates low sales expectations. (A Toshiba spokesman would not comment on the figure.) And only one player, the cheaper HD-A1, is currently on sale (for the full list price of $499.99) at Amazon.com and the Web sites of other big retailers like Best Buy, while the Circuit City Web site is currently offering neither HD DVD player.

Toshiba also has a pricier model, the HD-XA1, at $799.99. A Web search found only two retailers accepting advance orders, Crutchfield and Sixth Avenue Electronics City.

On the software front, it's unlikely even a single HD DVD title will be available for sale this month at any of the consumer electronics chains and discount retailers that are bringing in the players.

Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, which in January was one of three studios to announce ambitious slates of titles for HD DVD release, still has set no dates, even with players set to arrive in stores within two weeks. And assuming the traditional six-week soliciation period, “I'd be surprised” if any Paramount HD DVD titles arrive in stores before mid-April, according to a studio source. Paramount's first HD DVD title will be the music video U2: Rattle and Hum, followed by nine others, including Sahara, The Italian Job and The Manchurian Candidate. The studio also is still banking on a day-and-date DVD and HD DVD release of Mission: Impossible III, which opens in theaters in May and will likely be released on disc in late September.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment, which announced a dozen titles in January, likewise hasn't scheduled any firm release dates. “We're just trying to set a date that makes sense,” said a studio source who asked not to be named. “It's new technology and dates are going to move around a bit. And keep in mind, this is a very small launch.”

One bit of good news for HD DVD came March 8, when LG Electronics said it would support the format as well as Blu-ray Disc, from Sony. Previously, LG was only in the Blu-ray camp, as are virtually all consumer electronics manufacturers. Product announcements are expected later this year.

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