Warner, Universal experiment with HD DVD format variations in new releases

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Warner, Universal experiment with HD DVD format variations in new releases

Burbank (CA) – In perhaps the first official marketing experiment with approved derivatives of the HD DVD format, Warner Home Video announced late yesterday its plans to release on 9 May one movie – the Rob Reiner-directed comedy Rumor Has It – on a “combo” format disc, featuring single-layer HD DVD on one side, and standard-resolution DVD on the flip side.

In a statement, Warner’s senior vice president for marketing management, Steve Nickerson, said this particular release would give consumers the option to purchase the movie now – albeit at a suggested retail price of $39.99 – while they are considering the possible future purchase of an HD DVD player. Since HD DVD discs and DVD discs utilize the same form factor, layers of both formats can be bonded together back-to-back, using a process similar to that currently used for double-sided DVDs. Of course, with both sides featuring playable content, the only room available for labels is just along the inner rim.

In addition, Warner announced it would be releasing the action dramas GoodFellas, Swordfish, and Training Day on standard HD DVD format, for $28.99, officially bringing its HD DVD portfolio to seven.

Meanwhile, at the NAB convention in Las Vegas yesterday, Universal demonstrated a series of HD DVD titles encoded using Microsoft’s VC-1 codec, one of the approved suite of video encoding standards for both formats of high-definition disc. The advantages to VC-1, as Microsoft has touted since last September, include a substantially improved bit rate compared to MPEG-4. As a result, Universal says, the studio will be able to provide full 1080p (progressive) encoding for its upcoming titles, and fit a complete movie within the 30 GB space of dual-layer HD DVD, leaving room to spare.

That extra room may be at least mostly consumed by expanded features using the iHD interactive content layer, developed jointly by Microsoft and Disney. Universal’s releases could actually represent the first public trials of many of the interactive features that both HD DVD and competing Blu-ray proponents have promised. Early adopters of the first HD DVD titles from other studios – including Warner – while expressing their delight in how the movies themselves appear, have also expressed disappointment in the lack of depth and interactivity in the first wave of iHD expanded features.

While Universal promises 1080p encoding for its titles, the first HD DVD players – including Toshiba’s HD-A1, on sale now, as well as its forthcoming premium HD-XA1 model – are only capable of producing 1080i (interlaced) images. Last month, a Microsoft senior manager told TG Daily this would not be a problem, however, as the first new wave of 1080-resolution HDTV displays will be capable of re-compositing the entire digital contents of a 1080p image from the 1080i output emanating from the first wave of HD DVD players. However, it seems certain now that some HD DVD player owners will have 1080p movies in their repertoire, which their players downgrade to 1080i, only to have the images reassembled by their digital displays into 1080p again. Both players and movies for Blu-ray – whose dual-layer format has a 50 GB capacity – are currently slated to support only 1080p resolution.

Universal’s currently released HD DVD titles include the sci-fi hit Serenity, plus Apollo 13 and the unrated version of the action film Doom, both of which were released yesterday. Forthcoming titles include Assault on Precinct 13, Cinderella Man, and Jarhead (9 May); and The Bourne Supremacy, The Chronicles of Riddick, U-571, and Van Helsing (23 May).