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page updated: 2/12/08



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 2/7/08 - 1/25/08)


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2/7/08

All right... let's talk more Warner Home Video classics. You guys had questions, we've gone and gotten you answers. At least as many as we could. So here goes...

The first concern many of you had after our post yesterday on the studio' big catalog press event, was that it just didn't seem like that many titles were announced. There were fears, accordingly, that perhaps Warner was cutting back on their catalog operations. Rest assured, absolutely not true. As Warner senior VP of classic catalog George Feltenstein told me yesterday during our conference call, Warner is at the forefront of the classic film business and they intend not only to stay there, but even to expand their efforts.

At the press event on Tuesday, some 50 classic titles were hinted at from the Warner library, because the event was designed to focus on the Warner 85th Anniversary. However, I'm told that what was announced is "just the tip of the iceberg." The studio didn't want to give away EVERYTHING that they plan to do for the year, so there are still plenty of surprises to be revealed. All those titles that the studio has said in the past are coming (for example in recent Home Theater Forum chats) are STILL coming, sooner or later. Not the least of what's also coming includes "dozens and dozens" of new-to-DVD classic titles from the other film libraries Warner owns, including older MGM titles and films from RKO, Allied Artists, etc.

Here's something exciting that I learned yesterday: It's Warner's goal (by mid to late summer) that going forward, EVERY TIME they issue a new catalog special edition on standard DVD, the title will also available day-and-date on Blu-ray Disc as well. George wanted to stress Warner's absolute commitment to Blu-ray, not just on the new release front but with catalog material too. They don't want situations where people have to wonder, "Should I buy the DVD now or should I wait for a Blu-ray version?" of a classic title. They intend for that choice to be available day-and-date with every new restoration/special edition release they do. Warner doesn't want there to BE a wait.

One of the biggest issues they've had to deal with is something that all the Hollywood studios are discovering with their catalog titles: The previous 1080i film transfers they've done were fine for DVD release, but it turns out that they just aren't quite good enough to release on Blu-ray. So they're having to go back and do all-new 1080p transfers for Blu-ray release. That amounts to four or five years of work that needs to be redone in some cases, and that obviously takes time, because Warner - probably more than any other studio - is determined to do it right.

In terms of the specific titles I was able to confirm are coming to Blu-ray, here's what I can tell you: Bonnie and Clyde will be available in both Blu-ray and HD-DVD (both in the Ultimate Collector's Edition versions). All five Dirty Harry films will also be available in Blu-ray disc (but not HD-DVD - this corrects an error in our original Tuesday post). The Batman Begins: Ultimate Collector's Edition will be released in Blu-ray this year, and it will have everything that was on the HD-DVD release and possibly more. Warner is at work on bringing the rest of the Batman live-action films (from their previous Batman Anthology on DVD) to Blu-ray, but that might take longer. Rest assured, though, they are in the works. Other titles announced at the event and confirmed for Blu-ray are How the West Was Won, Gigi (a full 4K restoration) and An American in Paris (the first new Ultra Resolution restoration on Blu-ray). In fact, going forward, any time the studio completes a new Ultra Resolution restoration, you can expect both a DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of the title in question. The A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector's Edition may also be released in Blu-ray, but they're still planning what new extras are going to be created for the release (and the film itself is already on Blu-ray). Many additional Blu-ray Disc catalog titles are still yet to be announced, but rest assured that there are more coming.

For example, those of you who have been upset about the fact that certain key classic (and newer catalog) titles were released on HD-DVD, but still haven't been released on Blu-ray, needn't worry. They're ALL coming to Blu-ray in the months ahead. Think Mutiny on the Bounty, Forbidden Planet, Casablanca, Excalibur, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand Prix, V for Vendetta. Yes, all of The Matrix films are coming. The first of these previously HD-DVD exclusive titles hat you're likely to see on Blu-ray very soon is The Adventures of Robin Hood, a title for which the Blu-ray "disc image" is already complete.

As for other titles, yes... Clash of the Titans is coming. Heat needs a new 1080p transfer, but director Michael Mann has agreed to supervise one, so as soon as the studio can get the work finished properly, you'll see that title released on Blu-ray. Twister is coming to Blu-ray (and HD-DVD, both in May). As for those titles we mentioned yesterday that are going on moratorium (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Woodstock and North by Northwest), the moratorium begins at the end of February, and then they'll come back in 2009 - probably with largely the same extras on DVD (as they've already had elaborate special editions on DVD), but they'll be all-new on Blu-ray. Better still, I learned of an additional major classic catalog title that you can look forward to on Blu-ray in 2009, just in time to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary... Ben-Hur (though no moratorium on the standard DVD is planned). After all, as George told me (and I could tell he was smiling when he said it), "How better to celebrate a milestone like that than by watching the chariot race in 1080p?" George Feltenstein, some of you will be happy to learn, is as big a fan of these classic films as anyone... and NO ONE knows them better. Those of you familiar with George from his HTF chats (not to mention our own past interviews with him) will know what I'm talking about. He's EXACTLY the guy you'd want helping to oversee the release of classic titles on disc at a studio like Warner.

Some other stuff worth mentioning...

One of the challenges Warner faces in releasing its classic titles on Blu-ray, is one of expectations. Warner is obviously spending lots of time and money to complete their classic film restorations, in order to get these films looking terrific on DVD and Blu-ray. But no matter how much time and money the studio puts into them, the reality is that classic films are never going to look as good in 1080p as brand new films, or CG titles like Cars. But many who watch these discs don't fully understand that. It's something we've already heard from even a few experienced DVD watchers in recent months. There were some people, for example, who were initially surprised and disappointed at the look on Blu-ray of Sony's Close Encounters. We got more than a few e-mails saying, "Why is there so much grain!?" But savvy cinephiles knew that what they were seeing on Blu-ray was truly special: The film looking better than they'd ever seen it before, even back during its original theatrical run in 1977. People need to understand that classic films are only going to look as good in 1080p as the elements allow. You're going to see grain and other issues. But they're supposed to be there - it's part of the experience. The whole idea behind releasing classic films in high-definition is NOT to make them look like a new CG film, but to recreate the best original experience of seeing these films in an actual theatre. It's not about creating perfect, but rather perfectly right. Because of these initial unrealistic expectations, Warner has decided to delay the release of Clash of the Titans a few months. People have the expectation of perfection right now - perfect images are what's selling high-definition. Clash of the Titans looks perfect for what it is, and again a lot of time and money was spent to make it look as good as it can be. But it's not going to stack up against, say I Am Legend or The Matrix, so the studio is holding it back for a little while. In general, however, you should know that whenever Warner delays the release of a classic title, it's usually because the studio wants to get it right and really wants to take the extra time to get it there. They don't want to release ANYTHING before it's ready.

The other issue facing the studio right now, is that catalog sales are down a bit - not just for Warner but industry wide. Particularly on high-def, catalog sales aren't what's driving the early growth of the format. Just as it was in the early days of DVD, most early adopters and A/V enthusiasts all seem to want action films and science fiction and other dazzling eye candy to show off their displays and other equipment. It's new releases that are selling the highest. So the bottom line is that those of you who want more classic catalog on Blu-ray (and DVD for that matter), need to all get out there and support the titles that do come out. Buy them and show the studio that classic film fans are willing to justify the effort and expense involved in releasing them. Rest assured, however, that Warner is totally committed to not only continuing its catalog efforts on DVD, but also expanding them to Blu-ray as well. There are lots of great titles are on the way. And of course, the studio will continue releasing select titles on HD-DVD through 5/31.

Finally, there was one other concern many of you Blu-ray enthusiasts had for Warner. Specifically, a lot of you said you wanted to studio to start including lossless audio on ALL Blu-ray Disc releases, both new and catalog. Rest assured, the right people have heard your concern (naturally, George was already aware of it) and you can safely assume that the studio intends to start addressing it in the near future.

That's all for now. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE 2/6/08 - 3 PM PST)

Okay folks... we've heard your e-mails! Bits readers have had literally hundreds of questions about Warner's catalog plans for 2008 and beyond after our post this morning on their big press event yesterday. So I sent out a few e-mails this morning, the result of which is that I've just gotten off a lengthy follow-up conference call with WHV catalog gurus George Feltenstein, Ronnee Sass and Tom Lucas. Not only have I received answers to many questions, I've actually learned even more about the studio's classic catalog plans. Accordingly, I'm about to start working on another substantial post on the subject, and we'll have it for you early tomorrow morning on The Bits (as early as I can get it done).

Until then, as always... stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE 2/6/08 - 12:30 PM PST)

All right... so I've managed to catch a few winks after Warner's big 85th Anniversary shindig last night. Now it's time to get a few odds and ends out of the way.

First up, we've received a lot of questions from readers about which specific Warner catalog titles we mentioned this morning would be finding their way to Blu-ray Disc later this year. So we've requested more details on this from the studio, and we'll post them here as soon as we can. And yes, we DID ask about The Matrix films. ;)

Also, I wanted to post a quick reminder about our current Digital Bits Power Buy with DocDVD. We've been offering a special price on Pioneer's Elite Pro-150 Kuro plasma, but there's only a handful of them left - just FIVE units. So if you want to take advantage, be sure to act fast. Click on the link (or here) for all the details.

Now then... around the Net this afternoon, Home Media has a piece up on the Warner event today.

Also, Mike Clark over at the USA Today has posted a new article on the format war this afternoon. Now that Blu-ray seems to be winning the war against HD-DVD, the piece notes, the next struggle for the format will be to convince mainstream consumers as a whole to jump in. I'm quoted a couple times in the story, including here:

The Digital Bits' Hunt, who still has a small collection of laserdiscs he won't part with, initially worried that the format war could marginalize the discs. But now, he thinks Blu-ray could flourish. "I have a feeling that even those who said 'DVD is good enough for me,' once they start watching high-def, will change their mind."

I wanted to follow up on this comment a little more today. You know, for a long time, I thought that the quality of upconverted anamorphic DVDs would be good enough for most people, even after they upgraded to true HDTV displays. The fact is, that's WHY we fought so hard over the years here at The Bits to get the anamorphic option used widely by Hollywood. We wanted people's DVD libraries to be as long lasting in terms of quality and value as possible. I still do think that DVD will be good enough for many people going forward. But one of the interesting things we've been noticing lately here at The Bits, is that when friends and relatives have finally purchased HDTVs, once they start watching a lot of true 1080 content... they get hooked. And once they're hooked, they start actively looking for more HD content to watch. Several people I personally know who recent purchased an HD display started out convinced that DVD was good enough for them... and now they own Blu-ray players. So you never know. Never underestimate the persuasive power of pretty images, I guess. As the price for Blu-ray players continues to drop - and THAT'S KEY, it MUST continue to drop - the format might not have such a hard time catching on after all.

The good news, however, is that all your existing DVDs still have a lot of quality left in them, and will look and sound even better as you buy new Blu-ray players and otherwise upgrade your home theater equipment. Hey, I don't know about you, but I still buy the occasional music CD more than thirty years after the CD format was first introduced. I've still got a VCR and few VHS tapes, though lord knows I haven't used them in a long time. The point is, DVD is only ten years old. Even as Blu-ray starts to really catch on over the next couple years, DVD isn't going away anytime soon. Plus, just THINK of all the titles that are on DVD - many tens of thousands! The fact is, many of these will never be released in high-def. I mean, I'd LOVE to think that obscure films like Zatoichi Challenged will appear on Blu-ray eventually, but the reality is that I feel damn lucky just to have them on standard DVD. I'm old enough to recall a time not that long ago (just a decade in fact) when, if you wanted to see an interesting art film or foreign title, you had to be fortunate enough to have a good art house theater in your area - because those kinds of films just weren't available on VHS. And there was no Amazon, so you were limited to ordering out of an enthusiast catalog, or you were stuck with whatever your local video store carried. So you know... you take what you can get. Anyway, I'm betting that DVD and Blu-ray can (and will) coexist just fine, that Blu-ray will become a fairly substantial market, and that downloading is at least a decade away from having a real impact on the mainstream consumer video market.

Back tomorrow with more, so stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE 2/6/08 - 12:01 AM PST)

Okay, first things first: Our own Russell Hammond has completed his weekly update of the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section, featuring lots of new DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD cover scans and Amazon pre-order links. Keep in mind that anything you order through our Amazon links helps to support our work here at The Bits, and we surely do appreciate it.

Now then... let's get to the good stuff. In a press event at the Stephen J. Ross Theatre on the Warner backlot last night, Warner Home Video unveiled key details of their 2008 DVD and Blu-ray Disc release slate, celebrating the studio's 85th Anniversary. On hand for the presentation was WHV president Ron Sanders, along with Jeff Baker, George Feltenstein, Ronnee Sass, Tom Lucas and other executives, as well as special guests like actor Warren Beatty, directors McG and Richard Schickel, singer Nancy Sinatra and other members of the Sinatra family.

Warner's Jeff Baker and Ron Sanders, with director Richard Schickel
Warner's Jeff Baker and Ron Sanders, with director Richard Schickel

The planned 2008 slate itself is broken up into NINE different promotions: Oscars, Gangsters, Sinatra, Dirty Harry, 85 Years of Superheroes, Westerns, Musicals, Horror and Holiday. Warner revealed that Best Buy and Amazon.com are set to be the studio's official retail partners for these promotions.

Starting in the 1st Quarter, the Oscar and Gangster promotions will include the Bonnie and Clyde: Ultimate Collector's Edition (available on DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD) and the Bonnie and Clyde: Special Edition, along with such titles as the Goodfellas: Special Edition, the Heat: Special Edition, the Once Upon a Time in America: Special Edition, the Departed, the True Romance: Special Edition, the Film Noir Classics Collection: Volumes 1-4, the Warner Bros. Tough Guys Collection, the Warner Gangsters Collection (featuring titles like Public Enemy, Little Caesar, etc) and more.

The Sinatra and Dirty Harry promotions will debut in the 2nd Quarter. Sinatra will include the Sinatra mini-series, along with the four box sets we mentioned yesterday (The Early Years, The Golden Years, the Sinatra & Kelly Collection and the Rat Pack: Ultimate Collector's Edition - the Rat Pack: UCE will include "first-run" stamps, a music CD and other rare collectibles). The Dirty Harry promotion will include the Dirty Harry: 2-Disc Special Edition, the Magnum Force: Deluxe Edition, The Enforcer: Deluxe Edition, the Sudden Impact: Deluxe Edition and the Dead Pool: Deluxe Edition. All five films will also be included in a Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition box set (available in DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD), which will also feature the Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows bonus disc.

The 3rd Quarter will offer Superhero fans something exciting: a Batman Begins: Limited Collector's Edition Gift Set on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, as well as a Batman Anthology box set of all the feature film titles on Blu-ray Disc. These are obviously timed to coincide with the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight. Additional superhero releases are TBA. The 3rd Quarter will also offer several Western releases, including a How the West Was Won: Ultimate Collector's Edition and a How the West Was Won: Special Edition, along with such titles as The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, The Cowboys, an Errol Flynn Westerns Collection and a Western Classics Collection. Finally, the 3rd Quarter will see a Music promotion featuring new special editions of An American in Paris and Gigi, as well the debut of the Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory: Volume 3 box set, featuring Hit the Deck, Kismet, Deep in My Heart, Broadway Melody of 1936/Broadway Melody of 1938, Born to Dance/Lady Be Good and Nancy Goes to Rio/Two Weeks with Love.

Rounding out 2008, the 4th Quarter will see the debut of a new DVD Horror collection with titles featuring Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and others, as well as more horror releases from Val Lewton and Joel Silver's Dark Castle label, re-promotion of Kubrick's The Shining and a number of new Raw Feed direct-to-DVD and Blu-ray titles, including Otis: Uncut. The 4th Quarter will also see a Warner Bros. Holiday Collection and A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector's Edition.

As part of the year's overall slate, more than 50 new-to-DVD feature films will be restored and released from the Warner catalog alone, including such titles as All This and Heaven Too, The Beast with Five Fingers, Black Legion, Brother Orchid, Deception, Flamingo Road, Gold Diggers of 1937, Inside Daisy Clover, Kid Galahad, Lady Killer, The Mayor of Hell, Night Nurse, None But the Brave, Pete Kelly's Blues, San Antonio, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Three on a March, Virginia City and Watch on the Rhine.

Other titles set to be given special edition treatment this year are Cool Hand Luke, Gypsy, Risky Business, Splendor in the Grass and others yet to be announced. Additional thematic box sets will be drawn from Warner's classic MGM and RKO collections. It was also revealed that a collection of Natalie Woods titles is in the works.

Several special events will be held throughout the course of the year, including an August 31st Warner Big Picture night at the Hollywood Bowl, celebrating the studio's musical legacy. The highlight of the year's events will be the broadcast and DVD release of Richard Schickel's 5-part documentary series You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story on the history of the studio, narrated by Clint Eastwood. The broadcast version will debut in September, as part of PBS's American Masters series, and a 550-page companion book (by Schickel and The Times of London film critic George Perry) will be released as well. As part of last night's event, Schickel gave the media a 10-minute sneak peek at a portion of his documentary series examining Warner films in the context of World War II.

The studio also revealed during the event that last year's Blade Runner: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition and Harry Potter: Years 1-5 - Limited Edition Collection were tremendously successful releases, generating more than $20 million in combined sales in the 45-day holiday period alone.

In terms of new titles in the year ahead, you can obviously look forward to the DVD and Blu-ray debut of such theatrical release films as The Dark Knight, Speed Racer, Get Smart, Where the Wild Things Are, 10,000 B.C. and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price, later in 2008 and early 2009.

Finally, studio reps revealed that 4 major catalog titles (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Woodstock and North by Northwest) are all soon going on moratorium. The good news is, each will reappear in 2009 in day-and-date DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, complete with stunning new high-definition restorations to celebrate their own individual anniversaries.

We'll post details about the specific Blu-ray Disc catalog releases planned as part of Warner's 2008 slate soon, so keep checking back. And watch for additional titles to be announced by Warner in the months ahead.

Warner's George Feltenstein and actor Warren Beatty
Warner's George Feltenstein and actor Warren Beatty

Thanks to Alex Berliner of Berliner Studio/BEImages for the photos (above). Thanks also to everyone at Warner Home Video and Carl Samrock PR for all their hard work in hosting last night's event.

Stay tuned!

2/5/08

Boy, what a Super Tuesday? Isn't it Super? That's what they say anyway. You're going to be hearing about how Super it is all day, so I just thought I'd help you get used to it. Make sure you all get out there and... you know... be Super.

First up today, we've got a brand new High-Definition Matters column (formerly High Definition Classics and Beyond) from our own Barrie Maxwell for you. In this first installment, Barrie checks out Paramount's Zødiac: Director's Cut (HD-DVD), Fox's Man on Fire, Sunshine, Me, Myself & Irene and Wall Street (all Blu-ray), and Sony's Across the Universe and Resident Evil (also Blu-ray). He also takes a look ahead at what's known to be coming to Blu-ray and HD-DVD later in 2008. Enjoy!

All right, we've got plenty of announcement news to report. First up, 20th Century Fox has set Alvin and the Chipmunks for release on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 4/1, and both will feature Digital Copy versions of the film. You can read more here at Video Business.

Speaking of Fox, this would normally go in The Rumor Mill so salt it accordingly, but sources are telling us to expect the studio to release the Oscar-nominated Juno on DVD and Blu-ray somewhere in the April-ish time frame as well.

According to Home Media Retailing, News Corp president and COO Peter Chernin has reported that Fox's filmed entertainment division generated its fourth highest revenues ever in 2007. And according to the piece's headline, Chernin apparently expects "Blu-ray Consumer Spending to Top $1 Billion in 2008".

Amazon is currently reporting a 5/6 street date for Genius Products and The Weinstein Company's Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There. The retailer also has a 3/25 street date listed for Frank Darabont's The Mist in single-disc and two-disc SE DVD editions (also from Genius and Weinstein).

Sony has announced the DVD release of And Justice for All and Bobby Deerfield on 3/11, followed by The Good Night on 4/1. The studio has also announced A Passage to India as a Blu-ray Disc, a single-disc DVD and a 2-disc DVD Collector's Edition. Look for that to street on 4/15, along with DVD editions of Impulse and Loch Ness Terror. Special features on Passage will include Reflections of David Lean audio commentary with producer Richard Goodwin and 6 featurettes (E.M. Forster: Profile of an Author, An Epic Takes Shape, An Indian Affair, Only Connect: A Vision of India, Casting a Classic and David Lean: Shooting with the Master). The Blu-ray will also add an exclusive "graphic and picture" track.

Meanwhile, Buena Vista has set Greek: Season One, Chapter One for release on DVD on 3/18. They've also set The Classic Caballeros Collection (includes Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros) for DVD release on 4/29. The studio will also release National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets on Blu-ray Disc on 5/20 (the latter day and date with the standard DVD release).

We've learned that Paramount has moved the street date for The Animation Show: Volume 3 from 5/13 to 6/3. The studio has also announced the DVD release of Drawn Together - Uncensored!: Season Three for 5/13, followed by Exes and Ohs: The Complete First Season, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: The Fourth Season and JAG: The Sixth Season on 5/20.

Digital Leisure has set Don Bluth's classic Space Ace disc-based game for release on Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD on 4/8. The company also plans to release Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp in both formats later this year.

New Line has set Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born for DVD release on 5/6 (SRP $27.95).

Just in case we haven't mentioned this previously, Universal has set Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season for release on DVD on 5/13 (SRP $59.98) as a 7-disc set. It includes 20 uncut episodes, plus all the original musical performances.

Warner has announced The Weekend for release on 4/29 (for Polychrome), followed by Frank Sinatra: The Early Years Collection ($39.92 - Double Dynamite, It Happened in Brooklyn, Step Lively, Higher and Higher and The Kissing Bandit), Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years Collection (SRP $39.92 - Marriage on the Rocks, None But the Brave, Some Came Running, Man with the Golden Arm and The Tender Trap), The Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly Collection ($24.98 - On the Town, Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Anchors Aweigh), Sinatra (the miniseries) and The Rat Pack: Ultimate Collector's Edition ($59.92 - Ocean's 11, Robin and the 7 Hoods, 4 for Texas and Sergeants 3, along with a booklet, poster art cards and more) all on 5/13. Finally, look for Maggie Smith at the BBC on 5/20.

And speaking of Warner, be sure to check back here at The Bits late tonight or early tomorrow for a sneak peek at the studio's DVD and Blu-ray release plans for the rest of 2008.

Finally today, it's being reported that Jim Ward is stepping down as president of LucasArts. Ward was formerly senior VP of marketing for Lucasfilm, and we've known him as such for a long time - going all the way back to the release of Episode I on DVD. Ward's a good guy. We've missed him lately at Lucasfilm, and we certainly wish him well in whatever he's up to next.

Stay tuned...

2/4/08

Morning all! Yeah, I know... some of you have the post Superbowl blues today. Hang in there, it gets better with time.

We're pleased today to kick off the week with something of a rarity around here lately: A new Yellow Layer Failure column from our own Robert A. Harris. Those of you who have already gotten into high-def discs, have needed to do a firmware update... and had to speak with a "helpful" customer service agent... will get a kick out of what he has to say this morning. Enjoy. ;)

Also this morning, those of you who enjoy The Rumor Mill (and Blu-ray release news) will appreciate today's update of the section, so do check it out.

Around the Net today, there are reports coming out of Hollywood that the writer's strike may be over, or at least may be very close to over. Click here and here for more on this from Deadline Hollywood Daily and Variety.

Home Cinema Choice appears to have confirmed something we predicted many months ago: Specifically, that Toshiba's aggressive price-cutting on their HD-DVD hardware would discourage other manufacturers, in this case Onkyo, from supporting the format.

Finally this morning, I wanted to say a few words about Juno. Sarah and I caught a screening on Saturday night. Now I know why this film is getting all the attention. It's just a terrific little gem. I was actually surprised when it was nominated for Best Picture, not having seen it yet. But I'll tell you, not only does the film deserve the nomination, I actually think it's got an outside chance at winning, especially if No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood - both fantastic films in their own right - split Oscar voters. Juno is just absolutely charming, funny and original. I'd heard that the dialogue was a little too cute for its own good at times, and sometimes that's true. But I think it's also true that the dialogue just takes a little getting used to at first. Once you adjust, star Ellen Page's performance is something wonderful to see. Juno really sneaks up on you. It's a breath of fresh air, and it's WELL worth your time. For once I actually didn't mind dropping $11 for a movie ticket. And that's saying something.

Watch for a new column from Barrie tomorrow. Stay tuned...

2/3/08

Talk about an anti-climax. Not the Superbowl - holy smokes was that a great game. You had a defensive slug-fest, but still you had some big plays and repeated lead changes, and in the end it came down to the last few seconds. It came down to who wanted it more and how much gas was left in the tank on each side.

No, I'm talking about Toshiba's big "Hail Mary" Superbowl ad buy. So I'm watching the game, keeping my eyes peeled for the ad to see what kind of big surprise the HD-DVD camp cooked up for the much-hyped spot. Would they go for humor, would they pull out a celebrity endorsement, would they announce some kind of surprise exclusive title? And then there it was, right before the halftime show. And the answer to all three questions was: Nope. Now, maybe it was different in different markets around the country. But the spot I saw here in Southern California, talking about how great Toshiba's high-definition DVD format is... was broadcast in standard definition. And it was window boxed. And THAT was the only surprise.

Okkaaaaaaaayyy. Maybe not the route I would've gone, but you know... whatever. Turns out Toshiba must have spent their ad money locally rather than nationally, and then selectively too, because we're already hearing from readers that the spot didn't even air in many markets around the country.

Speaking of ads, I think E-Trade gets my nod for the best spot(s). The talking stain and the pigeons were pretty good too. You can watch them all here. Toshiba's ad is suspiciously absent.

Anyway, congrats to you Giants fans. Lucky bastards. Goodness, what an upset! And congrats to Patriots fans too on an amazing season. As a Vikings fan, I feel your pain, believe me. But still, an amazing season is still amazing, Superbowl or no.

See y'all in the morning. Stay tuned...

2/1/08

Here Be High-Def Dragons

Okay... let's just get this over with right up front: The Nielsen VideoScan software sales numbers for the week ending 1/27 are now in - the THIRD full week of data after the Warner announcement. And once again, HD-DVD's been taken to the woodshed...

Nielsen/VideoScan data

Not really much need for comment there. The numbers speak for themselves.

The only other bit of high-def news today is that Disney has confirmed the continuation of their Magical Blu-ray Mall Tour by seven more cities and dates: Toronto, Canada - January 25-27 (Yorkdale Shopping Center), Farmington, CT - February 15-18 (Westfarms Mall), Raleigh, NC - February 22-24 (Triangle Town Center), Nashville, TN - February 28 - March 1 (Cool Springs Galleria), Hurst, TX - March 7-9 (North East Mall), Denver, CO - March 14-16 (Flat Iron Crossing), Chicago, IL - July 23-27 (UNITY 2008 Convention)

Okay... that's it for the high-def stuff per se today, other than some title release news as follows...

Warner Home Video has announced some of the details you can expect on I Am Legend. There will be three DVD editions - single-disc full frame and anamorphic widescreen, as well as a 2-disc Special Edition (all on 3/18). SRP is $28.98 for the single-disc and $34.99 for the 2-disc. The single-disc DVD will offer 4 "animated comics" (including Death As a Gift, Isolation, Sacrificing the Few for the Many and Shelter) and DVD-ROM links to an online "databank." The 2-disc edition will add a second disc featuring an unrated "alternate theatrical version" of the film with a "controversial" ending. The Blu-ray Disc will include all of the DVD extras (SRP $35.99 - street date also 3/18). The HD-DVD version (SRP also $35.99) will be a combo release - likely Warner's last major new release title on the format. But it'll street three weeks later, on 4/8.

Warner has also announced that they're releasing Leonardo DiCaprio's global warming documentary, The 11th Hour, on DVD on 4/8 for an SRP of just $4.99. You can visit the official site here.

Meanwhile, Sony has finally unveiled their revised cover art for the Gattaca: Special Edition on DVD and Blu-ray (3/11 - see art below), and it looks like the release will include some newly-produced extras. From the previous DVD release you'll get deleted scenes, the "substance test" outtake and the original featurette. New to this edition are the Welcome to Gattaca featurette and the Do Not Alter? documentary.

Here's the cover art for Warner's I Am Legend: Special Edition on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as The 11th Hour, both editions of Sony's Gattaca: Special Edition (FYI, the links are right but Amazon has the wrong art up), and Paramount's The Invaders: The First Season (5/6)...

I Am Legend: Special EditionI Am Legend: Special Edition (Blu-ray Disc)The 11th Hour

Gattaca: Special EditionGattaca: Special Edition (Blu-ray Disc)The Invaders: The First Season

Also today, Anchor Bay will be releasing Sci-Fi's Painkiller Jane: The Complete Series on DVD on 3/25 (SRP $49.97). You'll get all the episodes on 6 discs, along with audio commentaries and the Behind Budapest: The Making of Painkiller Jane featurette. Sadly, the somewhat superior ORIGINAL Painkiller Jane Sci-Fi Channel film is MIA.

Universal will release an Alvin and the Chipmunks: Scare-riffic Double Feature on 3/11 (includes Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein and Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman), followed by Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard on 5/13 and All Hat on 5/27.

And several readers have e-mailed to say that Howard the Duck has also been released on DVD in Germany, and will debut in Australia on 3/3. Still no word of an official U.S. release.

Can't forget to mention the Super Bowl this weekend. Not sure who to root for, but as a Vikings fan, it's hard not to want to side with Randy Moss and the Patriots. I suspect their wide-outs are going to prove too much for New York's secondary, but you never know. I'm just hoping it's a good game. Tom Petty's doing the halftime show too. And if none of this appeals you to you, there's always Puppy Bowl IV over on Animal Planet.

Finally this afternoon, we'll leave you with a little something funny from The Jimmy Kimmel Show last night (via the always excellent Tyler Durden). Seems his girlfriend Sarah Silverman was having a little fun with Jimmy, and Matt Damon played along. If you're easily offended by blue language, you might want to steer clear. But the rest of you should get a kick out of it.

Have a great weekend! You too, Jimmy. ;)

1/31/08

How's about a couple more disc reviews today? Peter Schorn has checked in with a look at Universal's The Bourne Ultimatum and New Line's Rush Hour 3: Two-Disc Platinum Series on DVD. Jeff Kleist has also added his thoughts on Fox's Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection on DVD, which has been a Best Buy exclusive but will be released widely in April. Enjoy!

In announcement news today, our friends over at TV Shows on DVD are reporting that Universal will release The Incredible Hulk: Seasons 3 & 4 on DVD on 6/3. They're also reporting that Koch will return The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers to DVD in May.

And here's a surprise... Howard the Duck is being released on DVD in the U.K. on 2/18! Click here for the listing on Play.com. Go figure. Thanks to Bits reader Mat R. for the link.

Around the Net today, there's not a lot of news other than a couple of quick high-def related stories. First, Sony has reported earnings increases based on the strength of better PS3 sales. And Sonic Solutions, which makes DVD and high-def authoring software for the home video industry (specifically, a program called Scenarist), has apparently decided to eliminate HD-DVD format support. You can read more about these stories here and here at Video Business.

By the way, quick and completely non-DVD related side note: Has anyone out there got an Ace Combat 6 flight stick set for sale - new or used? This shows you how much of a gamer I am. I've never been a big FPS fan, and I'm way too cheap to spend $60 on almost ANY new game (other than maybe Madden NFL). But I'm a sucker for a good flight combat sim, and they're few and far between these days. So I'm in the store the other day, and I see Ace Combat 6 for the 360, and I couldn't resist. I get the game home, and really dig it. Amazing graphics. Story and cut scenes are typically lame, but the game play's a blast. So anyway, now I come to find out that the damn thing came out months ago in a version bundled with a flight stick and throttle! And I'm thinking, "Oh hell... you KNOW I gotta have that." Sure. Right. As those of you laughing right now already know, it's LONG sold out everywhere. There are a bunch on eBay, but most include the game, and all I need are the sticks and the manuals. So anyway... if anyone out there has played the game through 'til you're bored with it, and you're looking to sell the controllers, drop me an e-mail would ya?

See... this is what happens when you get old, kids. The whole gaming thing just starts passing you buy. Trust me, it'll happen to you too eventually. Time was, I was a quarter-dropping arcade hero, who ruled at Time Pilot and Bosconian. Then like 20 years go by, and even though I'm only 40, I might as well be shuffling along with a walker, holding a cone up to my ear. But trust me... some day, you guys are gonna be sitting down to play PS9 or Xbox 3D or Nintendo Pi with your grandkids, and you'll be looking around like "All right, where's the controller?" and they'll just roll their eyes and say, "Controller? Grampa, you control the game with your MIND. Duh! Here, stick this on your forehead..."

Progress. Pffft. ;)

Stay tuned...

1/30/08

Never fear... there's almost no high-def talk today, folks. What little there is, we'll save for the end of the post.

First up today, our very own Adam Jahnke checks in with his first Bottom Shelf column of 2008, featuring reviews of a trio of recent Anchor Bay horror titles, including Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, Hatchet: Unrated Director's Cut and Masters of Horror: The V Word. He's got more reviews on the way, so watch for those in the coming weeks.

In announcement news this afternoon, Warner has set Two and a Half Men: The Complete Third Season for release on 5/13, followed by the Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Hour: Volume One and New Maverick (Pilot 1) on 5/20, Reza: Shooting Back on 5/27 (for National Geographic) and The Anton Chekhov Collection on 6/10 (for the BBC - includes Platonov, The Wood Demon Play, The Proposal, The Wedding, The Seagull, An Artist's Story, two different versions of Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and two versions of The Cherry Orchard).

Meanwhile, Universal has announced the DVD release of The Bionic Woman (2007): Volume One on 3/18, followed by Reservation Road on 4/8, and Crossing Jordan: Season 1 on 5/6. The Bionic Woman will include some of the series' episodes on 2 discs (SRP $29.98), along with pilot episode commentary with executive producer David Eick and 4 featurettes (The Making of the Car Crash, The Stunts, Profiles and Real Life Bionics). Video will be anamorphic widescreen.

Here's a look at the cover art for Bionic Woman, along with Sony's Midnight Express: 30th Anniversary Edition (2/5) and Dogma Blu-ray (3/11)...

The Bionic Woman (2007): Volume OneMidnight Express: 30th Anniversary EditionDogma (Blu-ray)

By the way, this news is already a few days old, but some of you may have missed it. It's stories like this that remind us why you can't help but like the guys over at Ain't it Cool News: It seems that Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro is in discussions to helm the two Hobbit films for New Line, set to be produced by Peter Jackson. How cool is that? Matt and I were talking a few months ago, back when it seemed as if Jackson wasn't going to be involved in the films at all, and we were wondering who could take his place and do a worthy job of it. The only two names we could come up with were Terry Gilliam and Guillermo Del Toro. And now here's news that Del Toro is indeed likely to be the one. As a couple of guys who sat through all twelve hours of New Line's Trilogy Tuesday and loved every minute of it so much we were ready to do it again the moment it ended, this news REALLY warms our hearts. What an amazing collaboration this is going to be - two more years of great Christmas movie-going, nearly guaranteed. Nice!

Here Be High-Def Dragons

Okay... here's the only high-def news today: In a bit of bad news for Toshiba, the company has officially reported a 25% drop in their quarterly profits, on the basis of falling memory prices and undisclosed loses related to HD-DVD. You can read more here at Reuters and here at Financial Times. Also today, Internet News is reporting that Circuit City's clearance tags on HD-DVD players were a mistake, and that the retailer plans to continue making the hardware available. So a bit of good news for Toshiba too.

That's all for now. Watch for more disc reviews tomorrow. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 1/29/08 - 12:15 PM PST)

Okay, let's talk new release announcements, shall we?

20th Century Fox and MGM have just set United Artists' Lions for Lambs for release on DVD on 4/8 (SRP $29.98 - available in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen versions). There's no word of a Blu-ray release yet. The disc will include audio commentary by director Robert Redford, 3 featurettes (The Making of Lions for Lambs, Script to Screen and United Artists Legacy), and the film's teaser and theatrical trailers.

Also, we may already have mentioned this, but The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: 20th Anniversary Edition will street on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 4/8. The DVD (SRP $19.94) will include audio commentary with director Terry Gilliam and co-writer/actor Charles McKeown, the 3-part The Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen documentary, storyboard sequences (with all-new vocal performances by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown) and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray (SRP $28.95) will add the Marvelous World of Munchausen enhanced graphics and trivia track.

Sony has also set Kevin Smith's Dogma for release on Blu-ray Disc on 3/11 (SRP $28.95). Extras will include cast and crew commentary, a technical commentary, 100 minutes of deleted scenes with View Askew crew intros, and a Jay and Bob's Secret Stash commercial.

Also today, we've learned of a problem with Warner and the BBC's MI-5: Volume 5. It seems that Disc Three in SOME (but not all) copies is difficult to access, and if you can, you discover that it has an episode duplicated from Disc Two of the set. Contact this customer service number (1-800-553-6937) to arrange a replacement.

That's it for now. Tomorrow we'll have some new disc reviews for you to enjoy. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 1/29/08 - 12:01 AM PST)

Okay... a quick bit of site business: Our own Russell Hammond has once again updated the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section with all the latest DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD cover scans and Amazon pre-order links. So for all you cover art aficionados, and we know there are lots of you out there, enjoy. Now then...

Here Be High-Def Dragons

Yep. Sorry standard DVD fans. The rest of this morning's early post is all format war related. We can't wait for this thing to be over either, but unfortunately high-def's the news that's happening at the moment.

First up today, we've obtained the latest NPD Group hardware sales numbers from our industry sources. This would be for the week ending 1/19 - the second week after Warner's announcement, and the first full week reflecting Toshiba's 50% off price reductions. Here's how the numbers look. Note that we've included the previous week (ending 1/12) as well for comparison, and that these numbers reflect sales of stand-alone, non-combo units (game system devices like the PS3 or Xbox add-on drive are not included)...

NPD - High-Def Hardware Sales

Here's how the specific unit sales numbers looked for the week ending 1/19...

Blu-ray Disc - 16,496 units
HD-DVD - 8,639 units

So it would certainly appear that Toshiba's price cutting has at least contributed to a modest rebound in the number of HD-DVD units moved, though sources are telling us that Blu-ray earned approximately 83% of all the actual dollars spent on high-def players for the week. Here are those totals...

Blu-ray Disc - $6,033,540
HD-DVD - $1,182,248

Again, that would seem to reflect the fact that Toshiba's prices had been heavily discounted. The dollar volume percentage is key, because that's where retailers are going to see profits. As such, they're obviously making more money on each Blu-ray player sold than each HD-DVD player sold right now.

FYI, we'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that two weeks of data points does not equal a trend, just a very small line. We're sure that all parties involved (including the NPD Group) will make their own comments shortly.

Meanwhile, after yesterday's photos of Circuit City clearance sales on HD-DVD players, we've got more pictures this morning along the same lines. Our friend Dave over at TV Shows on DVD sent over these shots of Toshiba HD-A3s he spotted in the clearance isle at a Wal-Mart store in Memphis.

Wal-Mart closes out HDA3sWal-Mart closes out HDA3sWal-Mart closes out HDA3s

And here's something interesting - it seems that at the German retailer Saturn, Sony is offering consumers 150 Euros off the price of their BDP-S300 Blu-ray player (effectively making the price 349 Euros), with the trade in of an HD-DVD player. Plus you get 8 free Blu-ray movies. This ad scan was posted over at HiFi-Forum.de (credit to "heimkino-fan")...

Sony player trade offer in Germany

Meanwhile, the media reports on the format war continue to roll in. Wired has posted their take on things, and those of you who recall Monty Python's Black Knight may find it amusing. And according to Computerworld Singapore, analyst Hiroyuki Shimizu had this to say in Gartner's Semiconductor DQ Monday Report:

"Gartner believes that Toshiba's price-cutting may prolong HD DVD's life a little, but the limited line-up of film titles will inflict fatal damage on the format. Gartner expects that, by the end of 2008, Blu-ray will be the winning format in the consumer market, and the war will be over."

CIO Daily and Home Media have also reported on the Gartner comments today.

Finally this morning, DVD Review editor Guido Henkel and DVD File editor Dan Ramer have both added their voices to the chorus of those calling for Toshiba and the HD-DVD camp to back down now. The suspense continues.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 1/28/08 - 12:15 PM PST)

We've got a few new release announcements for you this afternoon...

Fox has now officially revealed the DVD and Blu-ray release of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium for 3/4, as we've reported previously. The DVD (SRP $29.98) will be available in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen editions. Extras will include 4 featurettes (Strangely Weird and Weirdly Strange: The Magical World of a Wonder Emporium, An Eccentric Boss and an Awkward Apprentice, To Meet Eric Applebaum, Start by Saying Hi and The Magical Toy Store). The Blu-ray version will include all of the DVD features (SRP $39.98).

Fox and MGM have also announced the DVD release of the Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection (includes Dark Horizon, Body and Soul, Millennium, The Enemy Within and The Udara Legacy) and a double-feature of Mannequin and Mannequin 2: On the Move on 4/15. The Alien Nation set had previously only been available as a Best Buy exclusive.

Also Sony has announced The Final Season, starring Sean Astin, for DVD release on 4/8.

Here's a little bit of new cover art: Warner's Robot Chicken: Star Wars (5/20) and Paramount's The Animation Show: Volume 3 (5/13) on DVD, as well as Buena Vista's No Country for Old Men on Blu-ray (3/11)...

Robot Chicken: Star WarsThe Animation Show: Volume 3No Country for Old Men (Blu-ray)

Around the site today, we've kicked off FOUR new Giveaways, offering each of you the chance to take home copies of Warner's The Invasion, Third Watch: Season One, Breaking Racial Barriers in the NFL and Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 5, Fox's Feast of Love, and Sony's Damages: The Complete First Season and the Groundhog Day: 15th Anniversary Edition. All of these will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, February 3rd. Click on the links for instructions on how to enter and good luck!

Finally, round the Net today, Julie Christie, Daniel Day-Lewis and No Country for Old Men took the top nods at the SAG Awards last night. And Christopher Nolan, director of the upcoming Batman sequel The Dark Knight, has posted some nice words about Heath Ledger over at Newsweek that we think are worth a read.

Now then...

Here Be High-Def Dragons

Good enough? Works for now at least.

So there's more bad news for Toshiba today. To quote a character from the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the manufacturer has been told to "stay out of the Woolsworth!" after their HD-DVD format was booted from the retailer's store locations in the UK. Woolworth announced today that they only plan to carry the format online from now on, citing the 10 to 1 sales results of Blu-ray at the retailer's stores over the holidays. Toshiba quickly responded: “While we're disappointed by Woolworth's decision, it is extremely early to spot which format will eventually win." You can read more on this here and here at MCV.

You know, Toshiba seems defiantly willing to keep this fight going indefinitely, no matter how bad things get for HD-DVD. One wonders. however, how their shareholders are going to react to all this. Word is the company's quarterly earnings are due out in the next couple days, and given the events of the last few months, they can't be pretty.

To get a better sense of how things are going for Toshiba right now, we suggest you visit your local Best Buy and Circuit City stores. Your own experiences may vary, but we're getting regular reports now of low or no HD-DVD player stock at many locations around the country, and we've now gotten many e-mails from employees at both chains saying that they've been told that the players aren't going to be restocked at their stores. Other sites, like 1080living and Format War Central, are reporting this too. And pictures of HD-DVD player clearance tags in Circuit City stores have appeared in the forums over on Blu-ray.com and at Format War as well.

HD-DVD player clearance tags at a Circuit City store

Around the Net today, there's still more format war discussion and commentary to report. CNet is now offering a dose of realism and advice to their readers on the subject now that Warner has chosen their allegiance. The New York Times is also reporting on the Warner decision, with the usual folks commenting in quotes. So is ArsTechnica. And both Kotaku and MaximumPC are reporting that Sony has now shrunk their Blu-ray laser diode such that it can now more easily be put into laptops, and is cheaper and easier to manufacture.

That's it for now. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 1/28/08 - 12:01 AM PST)

Morning, folks! We thought we'd get an early start on things today. We've got a couple of quick notes for you this morning...

First, we're going to be taking steps to separate or call out high-def discussion from standard def in this column from now on. We're trying to figure out the best format to do that. We'll probably keep release news mixed between both formats (because when a major new title is streeting on DVD plus high-def, it's just easier to talk about it all at once), but the main thing we want to do is signal when we're going to be talking about high-def format war related issues (news, editorials, etc), so that those of you who don't care about it can skip it if you like. So at the very least, we'll do something like we did on Friday, and let you know up front that a particular post is all high-def format war related. Or, when we post title announcement news, we'll do that up front and save any high-def editorial for the end of the column, and let you standard def fans know when you can stop reading. We recognize that most of the editorial lately has been high-def related, because frankly that's just the way the industry is moving these days. But we wanted to make things a little more standard-def friendly around here at the same time. Rest assured, good old regular DVD isn't going anywhere for at least the next 10 or 15 years, in our opinion.

The other thing that we wanted to let you all know today, is that we've officially stopped accepting advertising from the HD-DVD camp. Since the format war began, both camps have been free to advertise on The Bits, within limits of good taste of course. We even allowed the HD-DVD camp to continue advertising on The Bits, if they wanted to do so, after we officially endorsed Blu-ray Disc. But now that Warner has made their decision to abandon HD-DVD, we've obviously said we no longer believe that HD-DVD can win the format war. As such, we've decided that we're no longer comfortable accepting advertising money from the HD-DVD camp for that format. We actually made this decision - and informed our ad partners - shortly after returning from CES, but especially given our editorial on Friday, we wanted to let all of you know as well. You may occasionally see ads from a retailer with an HD-DVD logo (we believe Amazon has lately been running banners promoting sales of both high-def formats), but as of a couple weeks ago, we are officially no longer accepting or running specifically HD-DVD related ads from Toshiba, Microsoft or any member of the HD-DVD Promotions Group. We just figured this was the right thing to do going forward, so there you go.

A quick DVD release update - Universal's street date for Battlestar Galactica: Season Three has been moved up a week from 3/25 to 3/18. Thanks to our friends Dave and Gord over at TV Shows on DVD for the heads-up.

And for those of you interested in awards season, by the time you read this the Screen Actors Guild Awards results should be in. Click here for all the details.

Okay... now for all you standard-def guys, this last bit of news this morning is format war business, so we'll see you later in the next post.

For those of you still here, you might be interested to know that Video Business posted a a piece on Friday in which it's revealed that sales of high-def format players (both formats combined) are currently ahead of the curve of standard DVD's adoption back in the late 1990s. This is obviously with two formats competing via aggressive price promotions and HDTV display bundle deals to encourage sales. Despite this, up until now the competition has also kept most consumers sitting on the sidelines waiting for a winner. It will be interesting to see how an end to the format war will impact the adoption curve of the likely winner, Blu-ray, going forward.

Okay, that's all for now. Back later. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 1/25/08 - 4:45 PM PST)

FYI, this post is all format war, so if you don't care about such things, you've been warned.

Still with us? Okay...

So an interesting piece of e-mail found its way to us last night. It appears that someone at a PR agency representing the HD-DVD Promotions Group has been sending around this e-mail to select members of the media this week:

"As you may have seen, there are attempts being made to portray NPD's weekly sales tracking figures for next generation DVD as a trend. We want to remind you and make clear that it is not accurate to make long term assumptions based on one week of sales - a cautionary point that NPD has made as well. The facts are that during the week that is being singled out, both Blu-ray disc players and software were being given away for free with the purchase of 1080p TVs. It is also important to note that the instant rebate promotions that had previously netted Toshiba's players’ MSRP's to $199 and $249 had actually ended on Jan. 5th - causing an increase in HD DVD's MSRP back to $299 and $399 during that same week. Since Toshiba's retail price move on Jan. 13th to $149 / $199 - Toshiba is seeing very positive sales trends at retail. This reinforces the fact that price is a significant driver of sales. Toshiba's HD DVD players represent a significant value to the consumer and the marketing campaign that just began is proving effective. If you'd like to discuss this further with Jodi Sally at Toshiba, please let me know. We hope you'll consider this as you report on this topic over the coming days and weeks."

It's clear that whoever wrote this is referring to the posts we've made on The Bits earlier this week (here and here). We think it would be interesting to take a little trip around the Net today to look for news reports or posts on this subject over the last week that reflect the details in this e-mail above almost verbatim. We're betting there are at least a few.

What we find interesting is this bit right at the start: "there are attempts being made to portray NPD's weekly sales tracking figures for next generation DVD as a trend." Not true. At least not here at The Digital Bits at any rate. At no time did we portray this data as a trend. You can go back, read our posts and see for yourselves.

Why did we post the hardware numbers, you might ask? Simple: Because the Nielsen VideoScan software sales numbers for HD-DVD had just taken a hit in the week after the Warner announcement, and it was reasonable to wonder if the same might have happened to the hardware numbers. It did. For the record, WE went looking for these numbers ourselves, to satisfy our own curiosity. Both the HD-DVD Promotions Group and the NPD Group (in stories here, here and here) have since cautioned that many factors may have contributed to the changing numbers, and that's certainly true. It also doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that one week of numbers does NOT equal a trend, nor did we characterize it as such. What we ACTUALLY said is that we believe the numbers for that week reflect "the impact of Warner's announcement" on hardware sales, and the impact of mainstream media coverage of Warner's decision. That's it - that's the only conclusion we drew.

We think that's a fairly reasonable conclusion to make, when you consider that BOTH the software and hardware sales numbers for HD-DVD dropped sharply the week after Warner's announcement, according to official industry market data. Also contributing our conclusion was anecdotal evidence (including store visits and numerous e-mails from retail industry sources at both the corporate and individual store level) indicating that many retail outlets were reporting far greater Blu-ray player sales, and much slower HD-DVD player sales (and even HD-DVD player returns), during the week after Warner's announcement - a shift that most of these retailers attributed directly to the Warner news. A few even indicated their amazement at how quickly the Warner news had spread among their customers, though when you consider the number of mainstream news outlets that reported the news, it perhaps shouldn't be surprising.

Beyond this conclusion, we indicated that we'd continue monitoring and posting the sales data over the next few weeks, so that we can start to determine whether or not there IS in fact a trend. Here's what we foresee happening: Obviously the hardware and software numbers for HD-DVD post Warner dropped. The week after CES, Toshiba quickly began dramatic price cuts as high as 50% off their HD-DVD hardware. So we would expect the hardware numbers for HD-DVD to rebound somewhat. At the same time, however, we've had a number of retail sources tell us that they're using these sales as a way to clearance HD-DVD hardware from their stores, and that they're not likely to restock those players much when they're gone. If that's true even on a limited basis, what the data could eventually show is a brief period of stronger sales of HD-DVD players as a result of the price cuts, and then some kind of eventual decline as they disappear from store shelves. The other thing it will be interesting to watch is the Blu-ray Disc hardware sales numbers. Will they stay steady over the coming weeks? Will they increase? That remains to be seen. And what about the software sales numbers for both formats? There, at least, we do have a little more concrete data to report today.

The Nielsen VideoScan software sales numbers for the week ending 1/20 are now in. This would be the second full week of data after the Warner announcement. Here's what it looks like...

Nielsen/VideoScan data

As you can see, Blu-ray Disc software retained much of its market share from the previous week, while HD-DVD software managed only a 3% rebound. Obviously, these numbers are largely affected by the number and quality of the titles released on each format from week to week, and it's fair to say that not much of significance was released in either format during the week ending 1/20, so these numbers almost entirely reflect continuing sales of the previous week's titles. Again, two weeks of sales under 20% doesn't necessarily represent a trend for HD-DVD. On the other hand, it certainly isn't good news for the format either. Especially if it's true that at least a portion of electronics retailers are planning to phase out their stock of HD-DVD players and discs in the weeks and months ahead.

The reality is, despite cautionary statements here and there, the home video and electronics industries are ready for this format war to be over. That's the overwhelming sense we're getting from our many industry contacts, and the outward signs of this sentiment are starting to appear everywhere. Just go to your favorite local electronics or video store and ask their employees which format they recommend, which is selling better and which they think will win. Visit Amazon.com, which has now started warning its customers about Warner's plans to drop HD-DVD with a notice on the order page for the studio's HD-DVD titles. Read the statements of various retail and studio representatives in mainstream media reports... not to mention the editorial opinions of those same mainstream media outlets.

The other thing we've found interesting is the reaction to recent format war developments by key members of the home video industry media. As long as we've been reporting on DVD and high-definition here at The Bits (for the last decade now), we've known two key print journalists that have covered DVD and the home video industry at least as long as we have - T.K. Arnold and Scott Hettrick. Arnold is currently the publisher and editorial director of Home Media Retailing, and is also a regular contributor to The Hollywood Reporter. For years, Hettrick was the home entertainment editor for Daily Variety, and served as editor-in-chief of Video Business. To get a pretty fair reading on which way the wind is blowing in this industry, you need only read their thoughts on the format war of late. So what do they have to say? Well... among other things, Scott Hettrick is now the editorial director for Hollywood in Hi-Def.com, which is both sponsored by and dedicated to coverage of the Blu-ray Disc format. Anyone who has read that site in recent months will know that Hettrick's position in this format war is clear. Meanwhile, Arnold has just posted a pair of strong editorials calling for an end to the high-def format war. The first was published at Home Media last week - A Plea for a Unified, Blu Future. The second - HD DVD Backers Should Call It A Day - appears in next week's issue (you'll find the digital version here - the piece is on page 7), and it's even more direct that the first. To quote Arnold in this latest column:

"Toshiba and Microsoft, by stubbornly continuing to back HD DVD at a point where it is clear that the format cannot longer win, are threatening to derail the entire home entertainment packaged-media business - Hollywood's primary cash cow, and as such, a vital bloodline to the creation of new movies."

He goes on to say...

"Toshiba needs to swallow its pride and do the right thing for our industry - and, in the long term if not the short term, its own corporate shareholders."

While we respectfully acknowledge those of differing opinions, particularly a select few of our peers in the online enthusiast media, it should go without saying that we agree with Arnold's argument and his overall sentiment.

Way back in 2004 and 2005, before these formats were launched, The Digital Bits was strongly urging the industry to resolve its differences and unite behind a single high-definition format, knowing that a format war would get ugly and divide not only the industry as a whole, but also enthusiasts. That, of course, did not happen. Based upon the technical specs, as well as the various companies and studios backing each format, we said in early 2006 that Blu-ray Disc seemed to have the advantage on paper, but much would depend on the actual launch of each format. In April 2006, the first HD-DVD players were delivered to retail here in the States, with Blu-ray following in June. As we acknowledged then, both formats were a user's mess upon arrival, but both quickly made strides in working out their respective bugs. HD-DVD made sales gains as the year progressed, but we believed that the real competition would begin in the 4th quarter of 2006, when the Blu-ray format began to deliver a fuller complement of hardware (including the PlayStation 3) and software from its many supporting companies. By January of 2007, Blu-ray Disc software began outselling HD-DVD software on a week to week basis, and Blu-ray Disc hardware held its own in sales numbers in spite of a $200 or more cost premium over HD-DVD hardware. The Bits continued to remain neutral, but throughout the first half of 2007, we watched as various predictions made by the HD-DVD camp failed to materialize: Low priced players would win the format war for HD, porn would win the format war for HD, cheap Chinese players were the answer for HD, combo players and discs would be the deciding factor, etc. All have fallen by the wayside. Finally, by mid-2007, it became clear to us at The Bits that it was extremely unlikely that HD-DVD could ever actually win the format war - the best they could hope for was to stay in the game. We heard continued exclamations of "Let the consumer decide!" But the simple fact was, most consumers were deciding to sit on the sidelines, afraid of purchasing the losing format. And of those few consumers who WERE actually buying high-def players and discs - the early adopters - most of them weren't deciding either! They were buying both. The result was an on-going stalemate, which we believed then as now is bad for this industry - the home video equivalent of endless trench warfare. And in the actual trenches - the many home theater discussion groups online - things were getting very, very ugly, just as we predicted. Enthusiasts were bitterly attacking one another with sad regularity, and paid PR representatives for both high-def camps were using enthusiasts to wage nasty spin and disinformation campaigns. Enough was enough.

So in June of 2007, we decided it was time for The Bits to get off the fence. We looked at all the data, all the sales history and all the predictions for the coming months, and decided to support Blu-ray Disc. This was no reflection upon the video and audio quality delivered to enthusiasts by HD-DVD, which we have long acknowledged is equal to that of Blu-ray. However, Blu-ray had greater data storage capacity, greater software sales and strong stand-alone hardware sales in spite of cost premiums, as well as strong support via PlayStation 3 sales (which despite its initial high cost as a game platform only, is a significant value for those who want both a high-def player AND a gaming device - and it's also future proof thanks to its ability to be firmware updated all the way to BD profile 2.0). We believed that BD-Java, as an actual programming language, might take longer to fully reach its potential but was more robust in the long term that HDi, which is basically a browser extension. We believed the fact that the vast majority of CE manufacturers were backing Blu-ray over HD-DVD gave it a strong market advantage and a better business model, where as Toshiba remained the only major manufacturer supporting HD-DVD and was having to drastically discount its hardware to move significant numbers - a tactic that would only serve as a disincentive to other CE manufacturers from joining them. Blu-ray already had the edge in many markets around the world (Japan, Australia, etc), and we believed that its built-in support as video recording and data storage format would eventually make it popular with independent filmmakers and the CE industry. And even back in June of last year, Blu-ray had a clear advantage in Hollywood studio support over HD-DVD, much of it exclusive. We believed then that backing Blu-ray was the right decision, both for us and for our readers. Our advice to them was simple: Either stay on the sidelines (the recommended option) or, if you were going to risk getting into high-def, Blu-ray seemed to us the better option. That continues to be our advice.

We've received some criticism in certain quarters online for our move, but the response of the overwhelming majority of our readers - especially those who have followed our advice - has been positive, as has the response of our many friends and contacts within the home video industry itself. Since then, our belief that we made the right choice has only grown. While Paramount and DreamWorks abandoned Blu-ray in August, their decision has had little effect on the overall software sales numbers - Blu-ray software continued outsell HD-DVD for the ENTIRE year of 2007. Blu-ray hardware prices have grown more affordable, and stand-alone sales for Blu-ray have increased accordingly. The PlayStation 3 has sold better in recent months, and significant evidence supports the fact that many PS3 owners are watching and buying Blu-ray movies. More recently, Blu-ray hardware and software outsold HD-DVD during the critical holiday shopping season. Now Warner has announced its plans to abandon HD-DVD in May, giving Blu-ray the exclusive support of 75% of the Hollywood studios. Accordingly, we believe that both consumer spending and retailer support decisions are likely to reflect a continued and growing preference for Blu-ray in the months ahead, and we'll be watching the situation closely to see if this comes to pass.

In any case, it seems abundantly clear to us at The Digital Bits that while the format war isn't technically over yet, the writing is on the wall. HD-DVD is now even more unlikely to win than it was in June of 2007. Given that, the continuation of the format war serves no one's best interests, aside perhaps from the short term interests of Toshiba and others in the HD-DVD camp. As such, we echo T.K. Arnold's call for Toshiba and Microsoft, as well as Paramount and Universal, to end this format war once and for all. The Hollywood studios and retailers simply cannot afford to let another year's worth of mixed messages about high-def packaged media be sent to consumers.

Meanwhile, in the online enthusiast community, things have actually gotten so absurd in the last couple of weeks that there are now dueling petitions to alternately save or kill HD-DVD (complete with thousands of signatures real and fake, genuine and mocking), and one discussion forum recently hosted a thread in which its members were casting the actors who might star in a hypothetical Format War: The Movie (predictably, what started in good humor quickly became contentious and the thread was locked, like so many others before it).

Bottom line: Ending this format war now is the right thing to do for this industry and for consumers overall. It's time to stop all the bitterness and the hostility, both real world and virtual, and it's time to put this unnecessary and damaging dispute behind us.

It's just time.

And with that, we wish you all a lovely weekend, whichever side of this thing you may be on. Stay tuned...


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