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page updated: 1/19/07



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 1/12/07 - 12/21/06)


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1/12/07

Okay... our CES 2007 Photo Gallery is now online, complete with lots of pictures from the show floor - some 40 in all (and thanks to Sarah for formatting them all). We've got shots of LG's Super Multi Blue combo player, Sony's "Sapphire 1 & 2" 2nd gen Blu-ray players... even that R2-D2 "home entertainment system" we mentioned a couple days ago. I hope you enjoy them. And with that, our CES coverage is a wrap. Whew!

Some quick site notes before we begin today: First, thanks to our own Russell Hammond for getting our Upcoming DVD Cover Art section up and running again last week for the new year. The delay in getting it done was all on me, so please don't hassle Russell for it. In fact, drop him an e-mail to tell him how much you appreciate his efforts, and click on Russell's Google ads in the artwork section if you would. It's a lot of work to get all that art posted, so he (and we) appreciate it.

We wanted to let you know that Ron, Parker and all our friends over at the Home Theater Forum have informed us that they're holding a live chat with Kevin Collins, the director of "HD-DVD Evangelism" for the Consumer Media Technology Group at Microsoft. The chat will this coming Monday, January 15th at 5 PM PST. Click here for all the details on how to participate. We'll be sure to post a transcript of the chat the next day.

In other news, it seems the feud between New Line and Peter Jackson over the accounting of the Rings films is getting nastier. New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye said some mighty impolite things about Jackson in an interview with SciFi Wire, to which Jackson rather diplomatically responded on AICN. Ugh. Hollywood can be such a damn ugly place sometimes. This is what happens to people when millions or even billions of dollars are involved.

Also today, we want to acknowledge the passing of actress Yvonne De Carlo, of TV's Munsters fame, as well as Ten Commandments and other films. She was 84.

And the game industry tracking firm NPD has finally announced the 2006 sales numbers for the next generation video game systems. Nintendo sold 1.1 million Wiis in the U.S. in 2006, while Sony sold 687,300 PS3s. Microsoft, meanwhile, has sold 4.5 million Xbox 360 game systems since their launch in late 2005, and 92,000 HD-DVD add-on drives for the 360 (click here and here for more).

Okay... now for the announcement news. Universal has set the DVD release of Miami Vice: Season Three and Miami Vice: Season Four for 3/20 (SRP $59.98 each). They've also announced Hip Hop Life for release on 4/3.

Sony has revealed (but not yet officially announced) the DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of The Holiday and Rocky Balboa on 3/20, as expected. They also have Stranger Than Fiction set for DVD and Blu-ray on 2/27.

20th Century Fox and MGM have announced a ton of March titles, including Borat (for both DVD and PSP), Cinderella Liberty, Confetti, Fast Food Nation, The Full Monty: Fully Exposed Edition, a Hemingway Classics Collection (containing Under My Skin, The Snows of Kilimanjaro - also available separately, A Farewell to Arms, The Adventures of a Young Man and The Sun Also Rises), John and Mary, The Loop: Season One, Night of the Comet, The Other Side of Midnight, Revenge of the Nerds: Special Edition, a Revenge of the Nerds: 4-Pack Gift Set, Solarbabies, Stargate: Atlantis - Season Two and The Wiggles: Racing to the Rainbow (all on 3/6), Barney: Let's Go to the Fire House, Pretender 2001/Pretender: Island of the Haunted and iZ: iZ and the Zizzles (all 3/13), Care Bears: Care-a-lot Adventures, Care Bears: Forest of Feelings, Everyone's Hero, Garfield & Friends: An Ode to Odie, a Michael Shayne, Private Detective Collection: Volume One (containing The Man Who Wouldn't Die, Blue, White and Perfect, Sleepers West and Michael Shayne, Private Detective) and Christy: The Complete Series (all 3/20), and The Addams Family: Volume Two, Bob the Builder: Bob's Top Team, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes - Volume 1, The Pebble and the Penguin: Family Fun Edition, The Shirley Temple Collection: Volume 5 (containing Stand Up and Cheer, The Blue Bird and Little Princess - each also available separately) and The Shield: Season 5 (all 3/27).

April DVDs from Fox and MGM will include an All That Jazz: Music Edition, Bedazzled, Bug Rangers: Submarine Sandwich, Little Robots: Reach for the Sky, Royal Flash (1975) and S*P*Y*S (all 4/3), The True Confessions (4/17) and an Al Pacino Collection Box Set (containing The Local Stigmatic, The Chinese Coffee, Looking for Richard and a bonus disc), Author! Author!, Panic in Needle Park and Thr3e (all 4/24).

As far as high-definition, Fox and MGM have announced the following Blu-ray titles and dates: Dances with Wolves, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - Rated, Hoosiers, Ice Age and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) (all 3/13), and Dude, Where's My Car?, The Fly (1986), Hannibal, Me, Myself, and Irene, The Silence of the Lambs and Tristan & Isolde (4/3).

Buena Vista released Miramax's The Night Listener on 1/9, and they've set Touchstone's The Guardian (on DVD and Blu-ray) for 1/23, Disney's Cinderella III: A Twist in Time for 2/6, The Golden Girls: The Compete Seventh Season for 2/13 and Disney's Peter Pan: Ultimate Edition for 3/6.

As we've already mentioned, Paramount's Babel will street on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray on 2/20. The Brady Bunch: The Complete Series arrives on 3/27 in green shag packaging. An Officer and a Gentleman: Special Collector's Edition is expected on 5/1, along with Melrose Place: The Second Season and Beverly Hills 90210: The Second Season. And a reissue of the True Grit: Special Collector's Edition is expected on 5/22.

Finally, Warner has announced Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Pride (BBC), Stroker Ace, Tango & Cash, House Party II (New Line), Kangaroo Jack: G'Day USA!, Manchester United: Play Like Champions (BBC), Night Shift, Pope John Paul II: 1920-2005 (BBC), The Best of Ground Force: Garden Rescues (BBC), Detonator (New Line) and City Hall (all for 1/30), For Your Consideration (2/20), the Alexander Revisited: The Unrated Final Cut (2/27 - DVD, HD-DVD & Blu-ray), Sublime: Raw Feed Series and Sublime: Raw Feed Series - Unrated (3/13), The Nativity Story (New Line) and Burning Annie (3/20), Happy Feet (DVD, HD-DVD & Blu-ray) and Relentless Enemies (National Geographic) (both 3/27), Entourage: Season 3 Part 1 (4/3 - HBO), Larry King Live: Greatest Interviews Collection (4/17), Wrath of the Czar (National Geographic), Empress of Ambition (National Geographic), Planet Earth: The Complete Collection (BBC), an Icons of Power 4-Pack (National Geographic, containing Empress of Ambition, The Madness of Henry the VIII, Napoleon's Final Battle and Wrath of the Czar) and The Drew Carey Show: The Complete First Season (all 4/24), What I Like About You: The Complete First Season (5/1), The Waltons: The Complete Fifth Season (5/8) and Monarch of the Glen: The Complete Series 6 (5/15 - BBC).

Have a great weekend and we'll see you Monday!

Stay tuned...

(1/11/07 - 1:15 PM PST - UPDATED 5 PM PST)

Okay... today's post will wrap up our CES coverage. I've got some final observations to make on the announcements at the show and the things I saw there. First though, I wanted to address the comments of a few readers, who have sent us e-mails over the last few days complaining about all of the high-def format coverage. "I don't care about high-def! Why don't you stick to DVD?!" is the common through line of these e-mails. Or, "Why can't you separate out all the high-def talk? Because I don't care about any of it!" It's interesting... I remember hearing much the same tone from laserdisc enthusiasts back when we first started The Bits in 1997.

Here's the thing: The Digital Bits is not, nor has it ever been, just a DVD website. The word "DVD" isn't in our name for a reason - technology changes, and we knew that when we started the site back in 1997. The Bits is about celebrating and sharing our love of film. It's stated boldly right there at the top of the page under our logo. That's why you'll find me occasionally talking about a great movie I've just seen in a theater. That's why Todd will often highlight non-mainstream DVD releases like Zatoichi. That's why Barrie delves into great classic film releases in such detail. That's why Adam will discuss films he's passionate about. It's why Robert Harris addresses film preservation and related issues in his column. The Bits is about the films. And DVD, for the last decade, has just happened to be the best way to watch films at home. I would argue that the success of DVD is the best thing that's happened to films since the introduction of sound, color and widescreen, because it's funded the preservation of so many classics and created a larger and more enthusiastic (and knowledgable) film audience than has EVER existed before. There's nobody who's been more passionately supportive of DVD - save for maybe Warren Lieberfarb - as we've been here at The Bits in the last 10 years. We led the fight against Divx pay-per-view discs back in the day, we've lobbied the studios for important features like anamorphic enhancement, we've worked to help get important films released on the format. I've said many times that DVD isn't going away for a long time. I believe that people will still be watching DVDs 20 years from now, and all your DVDs will still be good on the new high-def players. We WILL keep covering DVD issues and reviewing titles. However, The Bits has always worked to stay at the cutting edge of home video technology. Whatever the latest and best way is to watch great movies in great quality at home, we're going to cover it. And the fact is... aside from word of newly announced titles, and discussion of great releases, DVD just isn't news big anymore. It's in 88% of U.S. households (according to DEG numbers released at the show), with over 121 million players out there and nearly 70,000 titles in release (see stats above). DVD is a fantastic format and we love it, but the truth is it's no longer the cutting edge of home video technology. That mantle is now passing to the high-definition formats. HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc have the potential to take everything we love about DVD and make it even better. High-definition is important and you SHOULD pay attention to it, even if you have no plans to buy a high-def player yet. Why? High-definition IS the future. Period. Whether on disc or via downloading, high-def is the next big thing. Plus, it impacts standard DVD in many important ways. When a major film gets a high-def restoration, it's a good bet that a new DVD version will be released as well. Technology improvements that are made for high-def could trickle down to regular DVD too. And over the next couple years, as prices drop (and they will, as anyone who purchased a 1st generation DVD player for $1000 back in 1997 knows), you might start thinking about upgrading to high-def. The Bits will be there to help you understand it all. And as always, we'll share our enthusiasm for great films with you... whatever format they're released on.

Okay... now for some final thoughts on CES 2007. I have to say, both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc camps surprised me at the show. Both made some interesting and even impressive announcements. What struck me most, however, is just how different the big announcements for each format were. Nearly all of the HD-DVD announcements (aside from the cool Bandai Visual news) were related to hardware, specifically word that more affordable HD-DVD players from Chinese manufacturers is on the way. Conversely, on the Blu-ray Disc side, nearly all of the announcements were about software, specifically that major catalog and new release titles were coming to the format in the next year, including many from the Blu-ray exclusive studios. I was very surprised that Warner and Paramount revealed few new titles at the show, and that Universal announced nothing at all that we didn't already know was in the works. I was also surprised to find myself impressed at Warner's Total Hi Def announcement, which brings a new studio, New Line, to both formats.

Looking at the HD-DVD side of things, I'm a bit puzzled. Over the years, I've spoken to many people who work in the consumer electronics sector, who have said that the main reason the hardware manufacturers were eager for a new high-def format to take off, was that the profit margins had dropped out of the DVD player business about 5 or 6 years in. Why did this happen? Because $50 and $100 players suddenly flooded the market from Chinese manufacturers. If you're a hard-working parent in Cincinatti, and your kids want a DVD player for their room, are you going to buy them a $50 Lite-on from WalMart, or a $300 Sony? Probably the $50 player, right? So how can getting those same manufactures involved in making cheaper HD-DVD players in the format's first year help the format long-term? In the short term, I can absolutely see this as beneficial because it could encourage more people to buy HD-DVD players... but in the long term, doesn't it hurt the major hardware manufacturers' bottom lines? The business wisdom of this just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Then there's this: A few readers have e-mailed us today about the news that some of the leading porn companies, like Digital Underground and Wicked Pictures, have decided to back HD-DVD for cost and ease of production reasons (see story here at ABC News)."Porn decided the VHS vs. Betamax format war, so it'll decide the HD format war too." is the typical comment. Here's why I doubt it: Back in the days of the VHS vs. Beta format war, the only way to watch porn was to visit a seedy adult movie theater or to spool up a Super-8 film. So when cheap, convenient porn on tape finally arrived, it was a HUGE deal, demand was massive and it benefited VHS greatly. The difference today is, cheap porn is already available EVERYWHERE on the Internet and particularly on good old standard DVD. Also, have any of you actually seen naked people in high-definition? Let me tell you, it's often a much better idea in theory than in reality. Porn stars may look sexy as all get out in standard definition, but... well, maybe not so much in HD. You can't hide those plastic surgery scars, stretch marks and a__-pimples in high-def. I'm just saying. Bottom line: Porn companies backing HD-DVD is not insignificant, but I doubt very much that porn will decide this format war.

On the Blu-ray side... well, it's pretty hard not to be impressed by the selection of titles that are on the way - titles that are exclusive to the format. The Rock, Crimson Tide, Cars, both Pirates films, Casino Royale, Ronin, A Few Good Men, Rocky Balboa, Jerry Maguire, Dirty Dancing, Ice Age, Master & Commander, Man on Fire, Edward Scissorhands, Predator, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Independence Day, I, Robot, Cast Away, A Night at the Museum, The Usual Suspects, Dances with Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs, Platoon, The Graduate, Battle of Britain, A Bridge Too Far, To Live & Die in L.A., A Fistful of Dollars, Bull Durham (not to mention a pair of TV titles Fox confirmed they're doing early in 2007 in the Blu-ray promotional pamphlet from CES - 24 and Prison Break)... how does HD-DVD compete with that? Porn? I don't think so. If Universal had announced E.T., Back to the Future, Jaws, Jurassic Park (and I'll admit that I honestly expected them to announce at least one of those titles this week)... okay, maybe. But they didn't. As we used to say back in the early days of DVD, a home video format is only as good the films you can watch on it. It was true then, and it's true now. It's all about the movies. I love the fact that Bandai Visual is releasing anime on HD-DVD, but anime has a VERY limited appeal to most consumers. Frankly, I think the best thing that happened to HD-DVD this week was New Line announcing that they'll support HD-DVD via Warner's THD disc, potentially bringing Lord of the Rings to both formats. But when you look at that list of Blu-ray exclusive titles... man. What makes this list even more striking are the titles that AREN'T there, but that you know are probably on the way. With The Rock and Crimson Tide coming, can Armageddon be far behind? Sony says they're doing Ghost Rider this year... but does anyone think they won't release the Spider-Man movies on Blu-ray in 2007, what with Spidey 3 arriving in theaters in a few months? What about Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Starship Troopers, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction? And what about the bigger titles that are probably several years off, but that will almost certainly still be Blu-ray exclusive - titles like Alien, Aliens, Die Hard, True Lies, The Abyss, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the older Bond films, classic Disney animated titles, the bigger Pixar films, possibly even the Star Wars films?

There's no doubt that we heard a lot of bluster and hype from BOTH high-def camps this week. And, of course, it all comes down to sales. Are people buying high-def? Will they buy more in 2007? There were some pretty high sales numbers quoted this week on both sides - numbers that were hard to believe at first glance - and it remains to be seen if reality will match up to them. But if the trends that seem to have been revealed at CES 2007 ARE true, and if they continue for the next 12 months... well, for better or worse, it's possible that we might not be talking about a format war anymore come CES 2008. In any case, perhaps the best news to come out of CES this year is: There's a LOT of great high-definition hardware and software coming in 2007, and it's going to be fun to check it all out.

We'll have our CES 2007 image gallery up either tomorrow or Monday. Sarah's going though all of the pictures I took and formatting them for us to post, but it takes time to get them all ready. In the meantime, I'll be back tomorrow to catch up on all the standard DVD announcements and other film-related news.

By the way, there's a LOT of people who have e-mailed me this week, so I'm really swamped trying to go through the messages and get back to everyone. So if you don't hear from me right away, keep trying. I'll respond sooner or later.

Hope you all enjoyed the CES coverage... or at least found it interesting reading!

Stay tuned...

1/10/07

Well... I have to tell you I was highly skeptical going into Warner's Total Hi Definition (THD) press event last night. I still think the success of Total HD is going to depend on the studio being able to match performance with promises. But if they can... color me impressed.

As expected, Day Three of CES was capped off by a lavish evening reception and press event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where Warner Home Video announced the introduction of a new hybrid high-definition disc... the Total HD. Attending the event with me (among the many industry observers on hand) were Ed Peters of DVD Review, Chris Chiarella from Home Theater Magazine and Shane Buettner from Ultimate AV. I think it's fair to say that all of us were skeptical of Warner's announcement, based on what we expected going in. But that began to change when certain things were revealed at the event.

Here's the nitty gritty: Warner's THD disc will appear at retail starting in the second half of 2007. The discs will contain both an HD-DVD component and a Blu-ray Disc component on the same disc, and the movie and extras content will be exactly the same on each. No price was announced, but WHV president Ron Sanders claims that while he thinks consumers would be willing to "pay a little more" for the security of having a disc that's format war proof, the price "won't be very much more than current HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs." He also added that, "We're looking at this thing to consolidate SKU counts - Warner will only release in THD once we get up and running." Warner's senior vice president for marketing management, Steve Nickerson, actually demonstrated on stage a test THD disc containing clips from Superman Returns in both an HD-DVD player, a Blu-ray Disc player and LG's new Super Multi Blue combo player, and it worked perfectly in each (the Super Multi Blue player defaulted to Blu-ray in the demonstration). Surprisingly (though this remains to be proven), Nickerson claimed that each format on the disc will be "full capacity", meaning that you can include both single layer and dual layers for BOTH formats (either 15 or 30GB on the HD-DVD side and 25 or 50GB on the Blu-ray side). We believe THDs will include the different formats on either side of the disc.

Here's the even bigger surprise: Representatives of both New Line and HBO were on hand at the event... and they pledged to begin supporting THD in 2007. New Line's Steve Einhorn commented, "We plan to completely support THD specifically. This will move our schedule ahead considerably." In response to a question from the audience as to whether this means New Line will release the Lord of the Rings films in THD, he added that the studio was "working on it now", that the titles were "high on their agenda" and that they were "looking at the right time and venue" for the release.

Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Home Entertainment Group, also indicated that THD "wasn't done to create a new revenue stream for Warner." Rather they did this as a solution to retailers and consumers in response to the format war. Licensing fees will not be paid to Warner for THD - they're paid instead to the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc groups just as they would be for releases on either of those formats. Nickerson also added that the replication costs aren't that much higher than regular high-def discs. It was also revealed that the replication equipment to create THD discs is the same as is used to create regular HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, so any replicator with both can produce THDs.

Tsujihara and Sanders produced statistics that they believe support their THD efforts, including that 49% of all consumers surveyed said they would be more likely to adopt high-definition on disc given the choice of THD. They cited projections indicating that there will be 55 million HDTV households in 2007, and 80 million by the end of 2008. They also cited HD-DVD Promotion Group numbers indicating that 2.5 million HD-DVD capable devices will be in homes in 2007, while the Blu-ray Disc Association claims that 6.2 million Blu-ray capable devices will arrive in homes in 2007 (numbers for both formats include game systems). Added to the 775,000 high def players (of both formats) that are reportedly already in homes, that makes a whopping 9 million high def players by the end of 2007... and THDs will work in all of them, regardless of format. By comparison, at the end of DVD's first year, only 1.9 million players were in consumers' homes - a sign (they believe) that the adoption of high-definition discs could be even bigger than DVD.

Like I said, it still remains to be seen if Warner can pull this off technically. With multiple layers and two formats on each disc, there's the potential for compatibility problems. One also wonders if other studios would support it (Tsujihara claims other studios are "evaluating" the format). But just the fact that THD brings New Line into the high-def fray alone is a big deal. As Warner admits, even if THD is only a temporary solution for consumers in the format war... it will still help to pull those consumers in from the sidelines sooner. And if it ultimately turns out that either Blu-ray or HD-DVD wins the format war... those consumers will still have THD discs that work on the winning format's hardware.

Here's a look at the THD logo... and sample THD packaging:

Total HD logo

Total HD packaging for Superman Returns

Okay... we'll be back tomorrow with our CES wrap-up, some final thoughts on the show's revelations and a gallery of photos from the show floor. We'll also catch you up on all the other new DVD release news as well.

We do have one bit of DVD news for you today however: Fox will officially release Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on DVD on 3/6 (SRP $29.98). Extras will include a Kazakhstan Bay Watch spoof, 5 deleted scenes, the "best of" other deleted scenes compilation, a Rodeo News Report, a World Promotions Tour featurette, the Borat soundtrack spot and a "Hebrew language button." A verra nice!

One last thing... apparently no official announcement was made yesterday about Apple offering Beatles music on iTunes yet, however (interestingly) Beatles music was used in Steve Jobs' demo of the iPhone. Just FYI. Guess I was at the wrong tech conference! Ah well.

Stay tuned...

1/9/07

By Day Two of the Consumer Electronics Show, most attendees start to feel like sherpas getting ready to scale Everest. Swag and product pamphlets are everywhere on the show floor, and by the time you cross just one hall, you're carrying 10 pounds of paper. Multiply that by several halls just at the Las Vegas Convention Center alone, and you're pretty exhausted by the end of the day. Not to mention the fact that there are so many people here that you can barely move, and that lights, sounds, and TV and flat panel images assault you from every direction. Needless to day, it's pretty challenging to get in a really productive day.

As I'm sitting here in the hotel room, there are a couple of other interesting news items worth mentioning. The first isn't gadget related, but it's sad news and I wanted to bring it to your attention to it anyway - veteran animator Iwao Takamoto has died at the age of 81. Takamoto was the creator of Warner's Scooby-Doo character and was the director of the classic Charlotte's Web animated film. You can read more here at MSNBC.

The second bit of news has a direct bearing on what's happening here at CES - Apple CEO Steve Jobs has just announced (at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco) that his company is about to launch the iPhone (a combination cell phone and iPod) exclusively through Cingular, as well as a set-top box called Apple TV (speculation had it called the iTV) which is designed to work with iTunes and allow you to watch downloaded video content like films and TV shows on your TV in your living room. The device shown was just a prototype, but once quality and bandwidth issues are worked out, this could be a killer app that can seriously challenge the TiVo market and bring mainstream respectability to downloaded video content. There's more on all this here at CNN, and no doubt the Apple website will have further details later today. Quite the big day for Apple. [Editor's Note: The was no Apple/Beatles announcement, although Jobs did play a Beatles song clip during his iPhone demo. Sorry - my bad. Too much coffee I guess. Apparently, I was at the wrong tech conference.]

There's one last thing that I wanted to mention before I get back to the high-def related news here at CES, and that's the craziest or most off-the-wall interesting thing that I've seen at the show. A company called Nikko Home Electronics has debuted the R2-D2 Home Entertainment System. No kidding. It's a small scale replica of the lovable droid from Star Wars that serves as an LCoS video projector with an image throw of up to 80 inches! It's also a CD player, a DVD player, it plays MP3 and MP4 files and it even has an iPod dock. Fascinating. I'll try to get a picture today if possible (I'll post all the photos I've taken once I get back from the show).

Now then… a bit of follow up from yesterday's report. I've gotten a look at LG's new Super Multi Blue Player, otherwise known as the BH100. As I reported yesterday, it's interactive menu functions are based on BD-J, so it can access Blu-ray Disc menus normally but uses it's own menu interface HD-DVD menus. It's capable of full 1080p output and supports all the various audio and video codecs of both formats. It has HDMI, component and composite outputs, and has both optical and 5.1 analog audio outputs. LG is also introducing a computer Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Disc Rewriter and HD-DVD ROM drive (it reads all formats including CD, DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, and writes to everything but HD-DVD).

As for the cheaper, Chinese made HD-DVD players that were announced yesterday, we can tell you that Alco's is called the SHD7000 and it will be sold under the company's Venturer brand in the U.S. and Canada. Shinco's player is the HD-A100. And Onkyo's player WILL be available in North America, though no other details are available yet. Street dates and retail prices for all of the above are yet to be announced.

Last night I also had the chance to talk with representatives from Universal, and confirmed that the studio DIDN'T make any new HD-DVD announcements here at the show. There was a suggestion at the HD-DVD press event that Scarface might be coming to the format later in 2007, and the HD-DVD Promotion Group's press release indicates that American Pie, Bruce Almighty, The Mummy Returns, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dawn of the Dead, Pride & Prejudice, The Bourne Identity, Half Baked, The Sting, Inside Man, Brokeback Mountain and the new Battlestar Galactica TV series are all "coming soon" to the format, but most of those titles were already known or had previously been hinted at by the studio. I confess, I'm a little surprised that new catalog titles weren't revealed by the studio, although they'll no doubt have more announcements in the weeks and months ahead.

The only other HD-DVD software announcement was also previously known: Genius Products confirmed that The Weinstein Company's Clerks II, Lucky Number Sleven and Pulse will all street on 1/16.

The HD-DVD Promotion Group's press release does include vague language to the effect that more than 300 HD-DVD titles will be released in 2007, but the lack of specifics was rather striking. Again, the Group claims that some 175,000 players were sold in North America from the April launch to January 5th. They're predicting an installed base of 2.5 million players by the end of 2007. They also emphasized the relative inexpensiveness of their format's hardware and the format's better name recognition over "that other format." No Microsoft Xbox HD-DVD drive sales numbers were announced, other than word that the peripheral is "selling rapidly."

Okay… now on to the news from Monday afternoon, the highlight of which was the Blu-ray Disc Association press conference. Pioneer's Andy Parsons moderated the panel, which featured the home video presidents of Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Warner and Disney. The group issued a promotional booklet at the event featuring the bold blue headline, "Blu-ray Victory Inevitable." Of the research the group presented, the most compelling data by far was a list of the Top 20 Selling DVDs of 2006… indicating that only 4 of the 20 would or could be released on HD-DVD, and only 1 was exclusive to HD-DVD (Universal's King Kong). But of the 20 titles, 19 of them would be available on Blu-ray and 16 of them would be exclusive to Blu-ray. The group cited research by analysis firm GFK indicating that Blu-ray had already won the high-def format war in Japan, with more than 96% dominance of the market. They also reiterated the announcement that Sony had shipped 1 million Blu-ray equipped PS3s to U.S. retailers as of 12/31 (my guess is that they were shipped RIGHT at the end of 2006, in the very last few days of December), and that their survey of 10,000 PS3 owners indicated that 80% planned to purchase Blu-ray movies (after seeing the copy of Talladega Nights included in the package) and that 75% of them planned to use the PS3 as their primary movie viewing device. At an "intend to purchase" rate of 80%, the group calculates an installed base of Blu-ray players in the U.S. of more than 800,000 in the next few weeks alone (provided the million PS3s sell through quickly, which remains to be seen). They also indicated that Blu-ray software sales surpassed HD-DVD sales in December, with a strong surge coinciding with the PS3's November launch (a 700% increase since mid-November), and that they project Blu-ray software sales to outpace HD-DVD sales by a factor of 2 or even 3 to 1 in the first half of 2007.

As a result of these numbers, Fox's Mike Dunn said that his studio believes the format war is "in its final phases." Parson's added that "We think Blu-ray will exercise its content advantage quite successfully in 2007. It's just a question of how soon it becomes apparent to everyone that Blu-ray is taking this game."

That content advantage comes in the form of a huge list of new Blu-ray Disc title announcements. Sony reported that it will release 90-100 titles in 2007, including Gridiron Gang and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (1/16), Open Season (1/30 - in AVC), Running with Scissors and The Tailor of Panama (2/6), Vertical Limit (2/20), Stranger Than Fiction (2/27), Casino Royale (3/13 - the big announcement, also in AVC) and Layer Cake (also on 3/13). What's more, they revealed that Hostel, Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men, Rocky Balboa (it's a Sony title, not an MGM title as we mistakenly claimed yesterday), The Holiday, Pursuit of Happiness, The Curse of the Golden Flower and Ghost Rider will all be released later in 2007.

Following up on the title announcements we first reported last Friday, Buena Vista announced that three of the biggest selling DVDs of 2007 will all be released on Blu-ray in 2007. Cars we knew about (it will be available this Summer with advanced BD-Java features). The (sort-of) surprise was the announcement that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest are also on the way (likely in May, also with advanced BD Java features). All three titles will be 50GB discs. That brings Buena Vista's announcement total to about 20 titles in the first half of 2007.

Warner indicated that it would be much more aggressive with Blu-ray in 2007. Not surprisingly, it announced that all of the titles it's releasing on HD-DVD will also be on Blu-ray, including the Matrix trilogy, the Harry Potter films, Oceans 11, 12 and 13, Bullit, Alexander Revisited: The Unrated Final Cut, Blade Runner, Blood Diamond, Happy Feet and We Are Marshall. First quarter titles will reportedly include Goodfellas, The Dirty Dozen and Enter the Dragon.

Paramount also revealed that their few newly-announced HD-DVD releases will also be Blu-ray releases, including Babel (on 2/20), Flags of Our Fathers, Face/Off and Payback: Straight Up. I also confirmed that Star Trek: The Original Series is definitely being planned, but that CBS is making the decisions on the release.

Lionsgate indicated that they'll have 40-50 Blu-ray Disc titles available by the end of 2007, including both new releases and catalog titles. Among the titles they're working on are Weeds: Season One, Ultimate Avengers, Ultimate Avengers 2, Dirty Dancing and Basic Instinct.

Finally, Fox revealed one more new release title that they say will offer some of their most advanced BD-Java features - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Look for it in the 4th Qtr of 2007.

A couple of other Blu-ray notes: Sony revealed that they're working on a pair of 2nd generation players, which they've code named "Sapphire 1" and "Sapphire 2". Prototypes were on display in their booth on the show floor, though no other details were available. Also, Parsons confirmed that Pioneer will be releasing its own 2nd generation Blu-ray Disc players in 2007, though he wasn't ready to offer additional details. When asked during the press conference to comment on LG's Super Multi Blue announcement at the show, Parsons responded, "We welcome another Blu-ray Disc player to the market." Finally, a Sony rep indicated in one on one questioning after the panel that the company is testing 3 and 4 layer Blu-ray media in their labs to increase the format's storage capacity should there be a demand for it from the studios. We'll try to get more details on this.

The only other high-def news to report from Monday is that both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray camps have begun testing live, online interactivity modes on their software (HD-DVD via Microsoft's HDi and Blu-ray via the BD-Java powered BD-Live). This would allow users to interact with one another online (BD-Live is reportedly modeled after a My Space style community environment) and to download additional content for their titles. Early demonstrations of some of this capability are reportedly happening on the show floor, though I haven't had the chance to see them yet.

Monday ended with the annual Digital Entertainment Group reception at the Venetian, celebrating ten years of industry collaboration on the DVD format. Executives and staffers from every major manufacturer, Hollywood studio, retailer and industry support company were on hand, along with members of the DVD and home entertainment press. I've attended the vast majority of these events in the last ten years, and it's always fun to see friends and associates in the industry - people I've been dealing with regularly since 1997. The winners of the DVD Creative Excellence Awards were announced, for which I was pleased to serve as a judge (you'll find a list of all the winners here at Home Media Retailing). Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was on hand to accept the award for the Best Theatrical DVD of 2006 for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. After a long day of walking the floor and talking shop, it's nice to relax a little bit with friends and enjoy free food and drinks. I'd like to take a moment to thank DEG executive director Amy Jo Smith and her team for all their hard work over the years. Amy is literally the force that keeps the DEG together and given the success of DVD over the years, she and her crew deserve a lot of credit.

Okay… so that's it for today's post. Tuesday afternoon will find me exploring the show floor more, and taking more pictures. The last event I'm attending here at CES also takes place this evening - Warner's Total Hi-Def Disc press conference and reception. But I'll tell you all about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, have a great day! Stay tuned…

1/8/07

Well... it's Day One of another CES and I'm already exhausted. Luckily, there's a Starbucks in the hotel lobby. Caffeine is nothing if not the lifeblood of this industry.

One of my favorite things about this convention is the chance to see friends in the DVD and video industry press, some that I've known a long time and some new folks as well. Last night, that included Guido Henkel and Ed Peters from DVD Review, who made same the long (and windy!) trek across the desert from Orange County as I did yesterday. Also taking in events with us were Chris Chiarella from Home Theater Magazine and Greg Robinson from E-Gear. Despite that fact that the show itself didn't begin until today, there was plenty to see and do.

Anyway, let's get right to the news. As expected, LG Electronics officially announced their new combo player at an afternoon press conference, which will be capable of displaying both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc content. The LG Super Multi-Blue player will retail for about $1,199. It will appear sometime in the first quarter of 2007 and feature 1080p output. According to LG president Hee Gook Lee, "We've developed the Super Multi-Blue Player to end the confusion caused by the current competition between Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. Customers are no longer forced to choose between the two formats." Interestingly, it was revealed that it will display Blu-ray menus normally, but the menus on HD-DVD discs will be displayed via its own custom interface (due to the fact that the player was originally intended as a Blu-ray deck, and HD-DVD capability was added late in the development process).

Later in the evening, the HD-DVD Group held their official press event at the Venetian and the mood was upbeat, with several interesting announcements made. First, it was revealed that the Chinese manufacturers Alco, Shinco and Lite-On will introduce cheaper, budget-line HD-DVD players later in 2007, as will the Japanese company Onkyo (although there's some confusion as to whether Onkyo's players will be available in the U.S.). Microsoft has also indicated that they may introduce their own branded HD-DVD player - an indicator of just how much the company has invested in the format's success.

Meanwhile, Toshiba said it expects to ship 1.8 million players into the U.S. market in 2007, with some 2.5 million players available from all manufacturers in 2007. In terms of actual numbers, indications are that 175,000 Toshiba players were sold from format launch in April 2006 to January 5th, 2007. Some 28 movie titles were sold for every player, which should be no surprise given the nature of the early adopter, enthusiast market. Toshiba announced a new HD-DVD player model for 2007, the HD-A20, which will feature 1080p output and sell for just $599. The company also revealed that they're working on a triple-layer HD-DVD disc capable of storing 51 GB of content (some 7 hours of high-def video), but don't expect it until the end of the year at the earliest.

In terms of software announcements, Warner was unfortunately short on specific dates, but indicated that such titles as Happy Feet, Blood Diamond, We Are Marshall, all of The Matrix films, all of the Harry Potter films, Oceans 11 and 12, Bullitt, The Getaway (1972) and Blade Runner will all be released on HD-DVD format in 2007. Oliver Stone has also prepared a new Alexander Revisited: The Unrated Final Cut for DVD and high-definition release, which will feature more than 40 minutes of added footage. All of this is in addition to the already announced titles The Departed (2/13), The Wicker Man and Beerfest: Unrated (both 1/30).

Meanwhile, Paramount has indicated that it will continue releasing new release titles on HD-DVD in 2007, along with their first catalog titles, although they were also short on specifics. Babel will kick off the slate on 2/20, followed by Flags of Our Fathers, Payback: Straight-Up and Face/Off. There was also a very strong hint that Star Trek: The Original Series may debut on HD-DVD in its newly remastered and CG-enhanced form in 2007. According to the studio, additional titles will be announced throughout the year.

Given both Warner and Paramount's stated commitment to support both formats, of course, all of these titles will no doubt be released on Blu-ray Disc as well, although this was naturally not mentioned at the HD-DVD event.

The most interesting software announcement at the HD-DVD event was the revelation that Bandai Visual, in partnership with Memory-tech and Microsoft, has decided to begin releasing classic anime titles on the format using the VC-1 codec. That means you can expect great series like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop in high-definition. It was unclear whether or not this support is exclusive to HD-DVD, but still it's very exciting news for anime fans.

On the Blu-ray Disc front, Sony held a press conference early Sunday during which they announced that some 1 million Blu-ray Disc equipped PlayStation 3s have now shipped to retailers in the States. They've also apparently conducted a survey of some 10,000 PS3 owners, and found that 90% of them have used their PS3s to play Blu-ray Disc movies, which they believe bodes well for the future of the format.

The Venetian was also the site of a cocktail reception with senior executives of many of the Blu-ray Disc supporting studios and electronics manufacturers on Sunday night. The mood there was upbeat as well on the strength of the PS3 numbers, and also due to proprietary Fox market research that has apparently revealed that Blu-ray Disc software sales surpassed HD-DVD in the week of December 24th by 20%, and that the gap is widening. The official Blu-ray Disc Association press conference happens later this afternoon (Monday), so we'll have more on all this tomorrow.

However, we did get a preview of some of the software announcements that are expected to be made at the event (in addition to the Buena Vista titles revealed here at The Bits on Friday). 20th Century Fox and MGM are jointly rolling out a slate of more than 40 Blu-ray Disc titles in the first half of 2007, at a rate of 5 to 10 titles per month. Fox titles will include Alien vs. Predator, Men of Honor and Courage Under Fire (1/23), The Sentinel, Entrapment, Broken Arrow, Phone Booth, Planet of the Apes (2001), Chain Reaction and The Marine (2/13), Ice Age, Dodgeball, Commando and From Hell (3/13), The Fly (1986), Tristan & Isolde, Me, Myself & Irene and Dude, Where's My Car? (4/3), Turistas (4/17), Master & Commander, Man on Fire, Edward Scissorhands, Predator, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Siege (May), and Independence Day, I, Robot and Cast Away (June). A Night at the Museum and Eragon will also be released later in 2007, along with other new release titles.

MGM's Blu-ray Disc slate will include Flyboys and Hart's War (1/30), The Usual Suspects (2/13), Dances with Wolves, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and Hoosiers (3/13), The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (April), Platoon, The Graduate, Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far (May), Ronin, To Live & Die in L.A., A Fistful of Dollars, Out of Time, Walking Tall and Bull Durham (June). Rocky Balboa and other new release titles are also expected.

By the way, in addition to the titles Buena Vista titles we mentioned on Friday, a promotional booklet that the BDA has released here at the show features a testimonial for Blu-ray by producer Jerry Bruckheimer. It strongly hints that the Pirates of the Caribbean films are coming soon to the format, which should be no surprise to anyone who has seen the Blu-ray promotional clips on recent Buena Vista releases.

Regardless of which format you support, one thing is readily apparent from the outset here at CES. Just as I predicted a few weeks ago, it's clear that both high-def camps are finally bringing their A-games to the table in 2007. Round and round and round we go, where it stops... nobody knows.

Okay, I'm off to the conference. I'll check in again tomorrow morning with the latest from the BDA event and the show floor. Just FYI, on Tuesday Warner is officially announcing its Total HD combo disc format, so we'll see if we can't learn more about the titles they're working on for both formats. We also expect to learn more about Universal's HD-DVD release plans for 2007 over the next few days, as well as Sony's upcoming Blu-ray slate.

One site note this morning… we have, at long last, updated the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section today. We'll be adding more art over the next few weeks. Everyone go ahead and take a moment to pick your jaws up off the floor.

By the way if there are eny errors or typos in the above text, I lay blame on the lack of sleep, the coffee, my scratchy handwritten notes and the tiny keyboard on my laptop. I'll correct anything glaring after I get back to the office on Wednesday.

Stay tuned…!

1/5/07

More high-def announcements are breaking today in advance of CES, and we've got another one for you now. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has just officially informed us that they're announcing a large slate of 2007 catalog Blu-ray Disc releases at the convention in Las Vegas next week. These titles will begin streeting in North America, Europe and Asia in March, many of them as 50GB releases ("enabling the highest caliber encodes, expanded bonus material and exciting new interactive features" according to the studio's forthcoming press release).

In North America, BVHE's 2007 Blu-ray catalog releases will include Chicken Little (3/20), the King Arthur: Director's Cut and G.I. Jane (both 4/3), Con Air, Crimson Tide and The Rock (all 6/8), Disney and Pixar's Cars, The Recruit and Open Range (Summer), Remember the Titans (Fall), and Finding Neverland (TBA). BVHE has also just officially announced Ladder 49 and Reign of Fire for release in North America on 2/13, with The Prestige following on 2/20. We'll have more details on those three in a moment.

In Europe, they'll release Eight Below, Chicken Little, Enemy of the State, Flightplan, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Guardian, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Pearl Harbor, Scary Movie 4, Sky High, Finding Neverland and The Wild (all in March), followed by Dinosaur and the King Arthur: Director's Cut (in April), Bruce Almighty, Con Air, Crimson Tide, The Rock and Cars (in June), and Air Force One, Reign of Fire and Wild Hogs (in Summer).

BVHE's Asia Blu-ray slate will include Face/Off (in March), Chicken Little and The Wild (in April), Scary Movie 4 (in May), The Guardian (in June), and Cars, Con Air, Crimson Tide, The Rock, the King Arthur: Director's Cut, Air Force One and Starship Troopers (Summer).

Additional catalog Blu-ray title announcements will follow in the weeks ahead. This is in addition to a number of new-release Blu-ray announcements that are expected to happen throughout 2007. Says BVWHE president Bob Chapek: "Blu-ray is the strongest high definition format on the market and we are very pleased to add this amazing slate of Blu-ray releases that will appeal to our core demographic. With the dual-layer, 50GB discs now becoming standard, the possibilities for exciting new interactive features and additional bonus content are endless."

Okay, back to those February Blu-ray titles from BVHE. Ladder 49 (2/13) will feature the original DVD extras, including The Making of Ladder 49 and Everyday Heroes featurettes, deleted scenes, audio commentary by director Jay Russell and Robbie Robertson's Shine Your Light music video, along with a Blu-ray exclusive Movie Showcase. Reign of Fire (also 2/13) will include the Breathing Life into the Terror: The Making of the Dragons and Below the Line: If You Can't Stand the Heat featurettes, a conversation with director Rob Bowman, the original theatrical trailer and a Blu-ray exclusive Movie Showcase. The Prestige (2/20) will be a 50GB release including The Director's Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan documentary, The Art of the Prestige production gallery (featuring costumes, scenery and set design images), and another Blu-ray exclusive Movie Showcase.

While we're talking high-def, Sony has just re-announced their delayed Layer Cake Blu-ray Disc for 3/13.

We've also confirmed again that Warner will be announcing a few new HD-DVD releases next week at CES as well.

We'll be back with more DVD and high-def news later. Just FYI, we're leaving for CES on Sunday morning, and we expect to make at least one more post this weekend before we go. We also want to note that we've corrected a typo in our Rumor Mill post from yesterday, related to the expected street date for Sony's Casino Royale.

Stay tuned...

1/4/07

Boy, wouldn't it be something if any of this actually works? There are a couple of big high-def developments that have leaked today that could have a major impact on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc format war.

First, Warner Home Video has revealed that they plan to announce a new type of 5-inch optical disc at CES next week that would play high-def content in both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players. This Total HD disc, as it would be called, is based on those hybrid patents that Warner filed last year - a development that was widely reported here and elsewhere. The Total HD discs will apparently contain both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc content, but not standard DVD content due to "manufacturing complexities." If it works, however, and more studios than just Warner adopted use of the discs (which is the real stumbling block in our opinion), it could make the choices of consumers a lot easier. You can read more here at Video Business.

The other piece of news is that LG Electronics is planning to announce at CES the first-ever dual format, HD combo player - one that will play movies on both HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Few details are yet available, except that the player could be available early in 2007. A draft version of the press release that has leaked to the media states: "LG expects this technological breakthrough to end the confusion and inconvenience of competing high-definition disc formats for both content producers and consumers." We'll see. There's a little about this in the story linked above, and a bit more here at PCMag.

We'd be happy to see either or both of these developments to work out. This format war is every bit as ridiculous a situation as we predicted it would be. It's divided the early adopters... and average consumers just don't seem to care about any of it. So cross your fingers. We'll have more on all this from CES next week.

Back later. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 1/3/07 - 3:30 PM PST - EDITED 9 PM PST)

Okay... we've just posted Robert Harris' latest Yellow Layer Failure column here on The Digital Bits, in which he looks back at the past year and picks his choices for the best DVD and high-definition releases of 2006. Don't miss it!

Also today, we want to kill a bogus rumor before it gets too out of hand. The Spanish website ZonaDVD.com has posted word of a supposed February Blu-ray Disc release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (complete with specs and cover art). It seemed pretty suspect to us, so we contacted Fox and Lucasfilm about it. Sure enough, it's just wishful thinking. We expect Fox to make some interesting Blu-ray release announcements next week at CES, but Star Wars movies will not be among them. Just FYI.

[Editor's Note: The original story was posted on 12/28, which we've learned is the Spanish equivalent of April Fool's Day - "El Dia de los Inocentes." Judging by the e-mails we've been getting in the last week from non-Spanish readers, it apparently fooled a LOT of people. Thanks to Bits reader Juan P. for the heads-up.]

On the subject of more reliable release rumors, however, our industry sources have checked in with word on the expected street date for Casino Royale and a couple other titles. You'll find that in The Rumor Mill today.

Finally, we've been working to track down total sales numbers on the new video game systems, and Videogame Charts seems to have the best numbers we can find (let us know if you happen to see any of the manufactures releasing actual/confirmed sales figures). According to them, Nintendo has sold 3.83 million Wiis worldwide since the November launch of the system. Sony, meanwhile, has sold about 1.31 million PS3s and Microsoft's Xbox 360 - which debuted last year - has reached about 8.13 million units. Has anyone seen accurately reported Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive sales numbers? Let us know. Thanks to Bits reader Brian H. for the link.

[Editor's Note: Videogame Charts doesn't seem to site their sources for hardware sales numbers, so you should consider those as estimates only. The NPD Group, which tracks videogame hardware sales for the industry, hasn't yet released the official December numbers. We'll post an update when they do.]

Have a nice Wednesday and we'll be back tomorrow. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 1/3/07 - 11:45 AM PST)

We've got a few more new announcements for you today.

First up, Warner Home Video has announced the 1/30 HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of both The Wicker Man: Unrated and Beerfest. On regular DVD, Warner has announced The Doris Day Collection, Volume 2 for 4/10 (SRP $59.92 - includes By the Light of the Silvery Moon, I'll See You in My Dreams, Lucky Me, My Dream Is Yours, On Moonlight Bay and Romance on the High Seas - each also available separately for SRP $19.97 each). For HBO, Warner has announced Eleanor & Franklin: The White House Years, a Vietnam War Story Triple Feature and Waldheim for release on 5/1, with In the Gloaming following on 5/29. And for the BBC, Warner has announced Shameless: The Complete First Season for 4/24 and Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days for 5/1.

A quick follow-up on WHV's Superman replacement disc situation... we've had several readers reporting to us today that they're starting to receive the fixed discs after calling Warner's 800 number. We don't know exactly when the fixed sets will start appearing in stores, but the individual replacement discs ARE done and are shipping out now.

Sony has announced the 2/6 DVD release of the original Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Also on 2/6, the studio has confirmed the DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of both The Grudge 2 and Running with Scissors.

Also, Fantoma Films has announced the 1/23 release of The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1 (SRP $24.98). The disc will include the short films Fireworks (1947), Puce Moment (1949), Rabbit's Moon (1950 - the rarely seen 16 minute version), Eaux D'Artifice (1953), and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), all mastered in HD from newly restored elements, with "screen specific" audio commentary on all the films by Anger, rare outtakes and behind-the-scenes images, restoration demonstrations and a 48-page book featuring a written appreciation of Anger by Martin Scorsese, exclusive notes for each film, rare photos, never-before-seen sketches for Anger's unproduced film Puce Women and much more.

Meanwhile, MCV is reporting that sales of Sony's PS3 have surpassed those of Microsoft's Xbox 360 in Japan. Microsoft has apparently sold 180,000 Xbox 360s to date in Japan in the last year, with Sony having already sold some 190,000 PS3s. Nintendo has the commanding lead in the Japanese gaming market however, with an impressive 400,000 Wiis sold in just the machine's first week of availability. Sales figures for these systems in North America are much less certain, though it's possible we'll hear more confirmed numbers at CES next week. You can read more here at MCV.

Here's a look at the cover art for three of the titles we mentioned above... Sony's The Grudge 2 and Running with Scissors and Fantoma's The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1...

The Grudge 2Running with ScissorsThe Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1

Also, around the site today, we've also kicked off a new Power Buy that you high-def fans might be interested. We've just received a handful of the new Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc players at the special Digital Bits Power Buy price of $900 delivered anywhere in the domestic U.S. - click on the link to read more.

We'll be back a little later with more, including Robert's new column. Stay tuned...

1/2/07

Happy New Year, Bits-ers! Welcome to 2007. I trust you all enjoyed your long holiday break. Some of you I know - you Federal employees - are still off today, what with the memorial services for the late President Ford.

There's nothing new yet to report on the AACS hack story from last week (we'll let you know if anything breaks), so let's get right to some new announcements...

Universal has announced Law & Order: The Fifth Year for release on 4/3 and Let's Go to Prison for 3/6.

Buena Vista has revealed that several of its currently available DVD releases will "go back into the Disney vault" on 1/31, including the Bambi: Special Edition, the Lady and the Tramp: 50th Anniversary Edition, the Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure 2006 Edition and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition. Move over Song of the South.

Paramount is releasing a Major League: Wild Thing Edition on 4/10, and re-releasing Eddie Murphy: Raw on 4/13.

And 20th Century Fox has announced (for MGM) a number of catalog Sci-Fi re-releases for 3/6 (tied to the theatrical promotion of Sunshine), including The Breeders, The Brood, The Day After, Escape from New York, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jeremiah: Season 1, Leviathan, Mad Max, The Martian Chronicles, Meteor Man, Miracle Mile (1988), Night of the Comet, On the Beach, Retroactive, Robocop, Solarbabies, Supernova and The Terminator.

For you superhero fans, Anchor Bay is releasing Stan Lee's Lightspeed and Stan Lee Presents Mosaic on 1/9, along with The Veteran and The Shunned. They're also releasing Eddie Murphy's Delirious on 2/6. And look for Masters of Horror: Season Two - Dario Argento's Pelts on 2/13.

Finally, Image Entertainment has set The Dr. Mabuse Collection for release on 1/9, including The Return of Dr. Mabuse, The Invisible Dr. Mabuse and The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse. All of their Discovery: Atlas HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc titles have been re-slated for release on 1/30. They're releasing the 6-episode anime Gunbuster on 2/20. They've set the Shaw Brothers' Hong-Kong action classic The Wandering Swordsman for release on 2/20 as well. Finally, the sci-fi films Dreamland and Outerworld follow on 2/27.

On the high-def front today, Samsung has dropped the price of their BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player by $100, according to Home Media Retailing. That means it's selling for about $799 in stores. Amazon is actually selling it for more than $300 off, at just $569.99.

And around the site today, we've kicked off a new Contest giving you each the chance to take home copies of Warner's The Promise and E.R.: The Complete Sixth Season. The contest will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, January 7th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

Before we go, we've got a little bit of new cover art to show you this morning. Here's a look at Paramount's Streets of San Francisco: Season One, Volume One and The Untouchables: Season One, Volume One (both 4/3), as well as DreamWorks' temp art for Flags of Our Fathers (2/6)...

Streets of San Francisco: Season One, Volume OneThe Untouchables: Season One, Volume OneFlags of Our Fathers

Back tomorrow with a new column from Robert Harris and more (sooner if there's any interesting breaking news). Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 12/29/06 - 1:15 PM PST)

Well, we've been doing a bit of research on the reported AACS crack this afternoon... and we've learned that there's good news and (just maybe) bad news. Our old friend Andy Patrizio sent over some links for further reading (thanks, Andy!), and it seems that the whole system hasn't been cracked... just a tiny part of it. According to tech blogger Chris Lanier, this all started because the current version of Cyberlink's PowerDVD player leaves the title keys for individual HD-DVD titles unprotected for a short time during the playback operation. A memory dump allows those keys to be revealed, and then the keys must be fed into the BackupHDDVD utility in order to allow those specific discs to be copied. Cyberlink is expected to release a patch/update which will end this vulnerability. The newly-updated software will likely use new device keys, and the old version's device key will likely be revoked, meaning that the old version of the software won't work anymore (after it receives the revocation orders, which would arrive on new HD-DVD movie software). So AACS itself hasn't been compromised - just the title keys to select titles. That's the good news.

Here's the bad news... those select titles (which so far include Warner's Full Metal Jacket, The Last Samurai and The Fugative, Paramount's Tomb Raider, and Universal's Apollo 13 and Van Helsing) could now be considered open and unprotected. The studios involved COULD decide to revoke the title keys on those specific unprotected HD-DVD discs, rendering them unplayable on all HD-DVD players, both software and hardware. Doing so would mean that those of you who already own the discs would have to work with the studios somehow to obtain replacement discs with new (and still valid and protected) title keys. The market is certainly small enough that the studios could do this without TOO much problem, though I don't imagine anyone involved would relish the hassle. We're making inquiries now to see what happens next and hopefully, we'll know more next week.

So basically, what we're likely about to witness is the AACS system demonstrating its own deliberately built-in ability to take a bullet and self-heal for the very first time in a real world situation. Fascinating.

By the way, Paul Sweeting over at Video Business has a nice summary of the whole situation today, for those of you who might want a quick primer.

Anyway, we'll be back next week with more on all this, as well as the latest DVD news (sooner if warranted). In the meantime, have a great weekend... and a happy and safe New Year!

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/29/06 - 12:15 PM PST)

Well... those of us with any kind of common sense and/or understanding of the geek world knew that this day was probably inevitable. Still, I'm not sure ANYONE figured it would happen this fast. The news today may surprise some of you, and if it's true, it's going to throw some folks in Hollywood and the electronics world into a tailspin. Reports online today are indicating that the much ballyhooed Advanced Access Content System (AACS) copy protection, that was designed to protect the high-definition content on HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs from pirates, has already been cracked. A DRM hacker named "muslix64" has posted a new tool on the Doom9 forums called BackupHDDVD, which reportedly decrypts the AACS on HD-DVDs on a Windows PC. In his own words, the tool "is a java based command line utility that decrypt vide files (.evo) from a HD DVD disk that you own, to your hard drive and you can play them back with a HD DVD player software." You can read more here (at TechSpot), here (at Hardware Upgrade), here (at CNet) and here (at Engadget). The software apparently comes with the codes to crack a few HD-DVD titles already, including Warner's Full Metal Jacket and Universal's Van Helsing. Blu-ray Discs haven't been cracked yet, but DRM works the same on both formats so it's likely only a matter of time before a similar tool appears to unlock that format too. The folks at Engadget are testing the tool, and it definitely seems to do something (click here to follow their efforts to test the tool). You can bet this news will get a LOT of attention over the next few days, and the companies behind AACS are already aware of the news and are investigating.

Wow. Never underestimate the industrious and ingenuity of the geek world. Seriously.

So what does it mean for the already uncertain future of HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc? Stay tuned.

REST ASSURED, we'll have more on this in the next few days...

12/27/06

Hi Everyone!

Hope you're all enjoying the holidays and having a great time with family and friends. We'll be back on Friday with another post, but we've got a little bit of interesting news we wanted to check in with today.

First of all, we've heard back from Fox and MGM and confirmed that the individual James Bond DVD releases set to begin streeting on 2/6 are single-disc editions. They do NOT include the second disc of extras that were part of the previous releases. So if you want the extras, you need to buy the four Ultimate Edition box sets that are currently available. Just FYI.

Meanwhile, Shout! Factory has announced the 3/20 DVD release of McHale's Navy: The Complete First Season. The set will include audio commentary with some of the surviving cast members, including Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway.

There's also a new report from Pali Research today that's forecasting a slight decline in DVD sales in 2007. I'm not sure if I agree with some of the report's conclusions - particularly those about downloading - but it's interesting reading. You can read more here at Video Business.

Also, arstechnica is reporting that DVD players have finally overtaken VCRs in terms of unit numbers in the homes of U.S. consumers. 'Bout time! Thanks to Bits reader Eric P. for the link.

Finally today, we wanted to acknowledge the passing of music (and film) legend James Brown on Monday. He was 73. Matt's written up a nice remembrance over at TAP that you might want to check out.

See you Friday. Stay tuned...

12/22/06

Here we are, just about to start the long holiday weekend, and we've got some last minute DVD news to get out of the way for you.

First up, Universal has announced the DVD release of Magnum P.I.: The Complete Sixth Season for 2/27 (SRP $49.98) as a 5-disc set.

DreamWorks (via Paramount) will release Flags of Our Fathers on DVD on 2/6, in separate full frame and anamorphic widescreen editions. They'll also release Flushed Away on 2/20, also in full frame and widescreen. There's no word yet on high-def versions, if any. Flushed Away will include audio commentary with directors David Bowers and Sam Fell, 2 animated "Slug Songs", an animator's gallery, a behind-the-scenes tour, featurettes (From Clay to CG: A Technical Journey, Meet the Cast and others) and much, much more, including trailers and TONS of interactive games and activities for the kids. Extras on Flags of Our Fathers are still TBA.

Meanwhile, Paramount (for their own bad selves) will release new re-issue versions of The Greatest Show on Earth, Nevada Smith and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on 4/13 (to our knowledge, they're the same basic discs that were released previously), followed by a new catalog title on 4/20... Mel Gibson's Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut - Special Collector's Edition.

In other news, Warner will release The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning on 3/20.

We've got a quick follow up on those individual Bond DVD releases that we mentioned yesterday (which begin to arrive on 2/6) - we're working to confirm whether they'll be movie-only or the same two-disc releases that are included in the box sets. There's some confusion on this issue and the current information available from Fox and MGM is unclear. We expect to back hear from them after the holiday, so we'll let you know as soon as we do.

Finally today, our friends at Criterion have announced that their March offerings will include Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain (#378) and The Burmese Harp (#379) on 3/13 (SRP $29.95 each), as well as Jules Dassin's The Naked City (#380) on 3/20 (SRP $39.95).

While we're on the subject of Criterion, as you may have read in Barrie Maxwell's Classic Coming Attractions column from yesterday, the company has just announced a brand new line of DVD releases for 2007 under the Eclipse label. This news is just too cool and important for anyone to miss it, so we'll let Barrie and the folks at Criterion explain it themselves (excerpted from Barrie's column and Criterion's blog). Here you go:

There's some really great news from Criterion about their anticipated Eclipse line. From Criterion's own blog: "We're nine years into the DVD market, and there are still hundreds of important films that can only be seen in old VHS versions or, if you're lucky enough to live in a town with a good repertory theater, a new print might come around once every ten years or so. We want those films to be more readily available, and that's why we're creating Eclipse. Each month we'll present a short series, usually three to five films, focusing on a particular director or theme. There will be no supplements and the master materials will be the best we can find, but they won't be full Criterion restorations. Retail pricing for each set will average under $15 per disc, and we are examining the logistics of making the sets available at an even more favorable rate on a subscriber or club basis. The goal here is to make these films available, to make sure that Criterion's own work style doesn't contribute to the continuing unavailability of these films. Once our producers and restoration crew get started on a Criterion edition, the project takes on a life of its own. Months later, with a little luck, we'll have something really special to show for it, but at that rate we can't make a dent in the number of important unreleased films that we'd like people to be able to see. The early films of Ingmar Bergman, the documentaries of Louis Malle-these are extraordinary and important films that are very hard to find outside the revival-house circuit. At the moment you'll find more Mizoguchis in theaters (thanks to a traveling retrospective) than in the video store, and that's certainly also true for Naruse, Ozu, and Imamura. While Criterion is working on new special editions of individual pictures by all of these filmmakers, at a rate of maybe one or two a year, we'll never be able to represent the breadth of their bodies of work. Eclipse will help to fill that gap." The first offering in this series will be Early Bergman, a collection of several films pre-dating The Seventh Seal.

That is absolutely FANTASTIC news, and all of us here at The Digital Bits applaud the efforts of Criterion to make these great and largely unseen films available to a wider audience. There are so many great older and international films that deserve to be seen - films that WE KNOW lots of you out there would love and enjoy, if only you had access to them. To us, the really wonderful thing about DVD has always been the format's ability to expose you to new film experiences - titles that you'd never otherwise get to see unless you went to film school, or were lucky enough to have a really good art-house cinema close by. The frustrating thing for us at The Bits these days, is that with so many great titles already being released, we don't have the time to review nearly as many as we'd like. Still, we just can't say enough about how much we appreciate the work that Criterion does in this area, and we're thrilled to learn that it's not only going to continue, but to grow and expand in 2007 and beyond. That's very exciting news indeed.

Okay... we're going to leave you with a bit more cover art. Here's Paramount's Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut, Criterion's The Naked City and New Line's Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: Platinum Edition (2/27)...

Payback Straight Up: The Director's CutThe Naked City (Criterion)Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: Platinum Edition

We're obviously going to be taking a few days off next week, due to the Christmas holiday, to spend time with family and friends. However, we will be back on Wednesday (12/27), and maybe Friday as well (12/29), to keep you all informed on any late-breaking DVD and high-definition news.

In the meantime, all of us here at The Bits want to wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and all the very best to you and your family and friends (whatever your holiday of choice is, and whereever you may find yourselves around the globe). We're thankful for many things as we close out 2006, but we're most thankful that we have such great readers as you. Your support is, as always, much appreciated.

So with that... merry merry and happy happy, keep safe and we'll see you next Wednesday! Cheers!

(LATE UPDATE - 12/21/06 - 4:15 PM PST)

Just a quick update... we've just posted Barrie Maxwell's last column for 2006 - a holiday-themed installment that combines his Classic Coming Attractions and his new High-Definition Classics and Beyond. In this edition, Barrie reviews 4 new holiday DVDs... Fox's Miracle on 34th Street and O. Henry's Full House, Universal's Holiday Inn: Special Edition and Paramount's It's a Wonderful Life: 60th Anniversary Special Edition, along with a pair of holiday HD-DVD releases from Warner... A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. As always, he also runs down the latest classic release announcements (and related news)... and I think you fans of Robinson Crusoe on Mars will be very, VERY pleased with it. There's even a bit of an update on those Samuel Bronston films we've been waiting for from Miramax (which have now apparently found their way into the Weinstein Company fold). Enjoy!

Back tomorrow. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/21/06 - 2:15 PM PST)

Man... what a busy couple of days! We'd planned to get Barrie's column up yesterday... but then he made some changes and additions... and then we got into the whole Superman replacement situation again... and then we got e-mailed a million Twin Peaks questions... and then... well, it was one damn thing after another. But we've got our ducks all lined up now, so you'll get your money's worth today.

First up... Superman. Warner Home Video has informed us that the fixed discs for the Superman: The Movie 4-disc set and the 14-disc Superman Ultimate box set are about to arrive from the replicator, which means they should START shipping out to those of you who called their 800 number (800-553-6937) over the next few days. Obviously, you'll need to be patient what with the Christmas mail slow down and the fact that TONS of people have been (and will be) calling the 800 number... but it looks like the discs are at least finally ready to ship. That also means that you should start seeing the fixed Superman 4-disc set and 14-disc Ultimate box in stores by mid-January. They'll have new SKU numbers to identify them, and we'll let you know what they are as soon as Warner informs us.

As for Twin Peaks, we've talked to Paramount and there's no specific details available to report yet, other than the fact that Twin Peaks: The Second Season is expected to street on 4/10. We've heard previously that Season One and maybe even the original pilot will be released as well, but there's nothing new to report yet. We will, however, stay on top of this and give you all the details as soon as they can be known. We can understand why Paramount and CBS would want to be cautious with this title... previous potential David Lynch DVD releases have been come to naught because of information leaking too early. So sit tight for now, and we promise to keep you informed.

In release news today, Sony has confirmed that Marie Antoinette will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 2/13. They've also set The Grudge 2 for release on DVD and UMD on 2/6 (we suspect a Blu-ray will be announced soon as well).

MGM & Fox have just announced the individual release of some of the Bond films on 2/6, specifically For Your Eyes Only, Goldeneye, Goldfinger, License to Kill, The Spy Who Loved Me and Thunderball (SRP $14.98 each). The others will presumably follow in April or May. It's important to note, however, that these releases appear to be single-disc editions, without the second disc of extras that were included in the previous releases and in the current Ultimate Edition box sets. So plan accordingly.

While we're on the topic of 007... consider this Rumor Mill worthy, but our industry sources have informed us that Sony is looking at 3/13 as the street date for Casino Royale on DVD & Blu-ray.

By the way, while we're still talking Fox, we're also hearing that the studio has placed the M*A*S*H: The Martinis & Medicine Collection (recently reviewed here) on moratorium effective immediately, so if you want it, buy it quick. It's only going to be available as long as supplies last in stores.

Finally, Warner has announced the DVD release of The Venture Bros.: Season Two on 4/17 (SRP $29.98), along with a 2-pack of The Venture Bros.: Seasons One & Two (SRP $59.92).

A couple of non-DVD related things: The trailer for Michael Bay's live-action Transformers film is now available for those who may be interested. Better still, the trailer for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse just went up today as well. Grindhouse is the film we're most looking forward to here at The Bits right now, along with 300, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth and (late next year) The Golden Compass.

Also, I happened to catch a screening of Rocky Balboa last night... because how the hell can you NOT go see a new Rocky film? I mean, seriously. I'm happy to say, I was very pleased. Turns out it's a surprisingly charming film. It's all about how the most important fight is not so much in the ring, but in real life... in being able to get back up again after life knocks you down. There's not a lot of suspense to the film's ACTUAL fight scene, and there are a few obvious cliches here and there, but Stallone manages to remind you that he's a pretty damn great character actor when he wants to be. Better still, he REALLY gets you to remember how much you liked ol' Rock in the first place (and why). Some of the moments between Rocky and Paulie in particular are excellent. It's not Return of the King or anything, but Rocky Balboa is a damn nice finish to this series. Keep your expectations realistic and I think you'll be surprised at how much you enjoy the film. Thanks for a great last installment, Sly!

Speaking of Rocky, we've just kicked off new Contests giving each of you the chance to win a badass new Rocky Balboa replica statue from Sideshow Collectibles, as well as one of FIVE copies of the new Black Christmas: Special Edition. Both contests will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, December 31st. Good luck!

Back shortly with Barrie's column. Stay tuned...


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