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page updated: 3/14/08



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 3/10/08 - 2/21/08)


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3/10/08

Morning, everyone. Or should I say afternoon? I hope you all had a fine weekend. Mine was decent, though the time change back from Daylight Savings really threw me off. I always hate losing an hour like that.

Here at the site today, our very own Todd Doogan has turned in his masters' thesis review of Grindhouse, otherwise known as Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, both of which are now available on DVD from Genius Products and The Weinstein Company. I suspect you longtime Bits readers will really get a kick out of it. Let's just say Doogan has returned to form. I think you'll see what I mean.

In announcement news today, Genius Products has set The Great Debaters for release on DVD on 5/13 in single-disc and 2-disc Collector's Edition versions.

You Gen-Xers will be pleased to know that Sony has just announced the DVD release of Square Pegs: The Complete Series on 5/20 (SRP $29.95). The 3-disc set will include all 19 episodes along with the Weemawee Yearbook Memories featurette (includes interviews with Sarah Jessica Parker, Jamie Gertz, Tracy Nelson and Claudette Wells, John Femia, Steven Peterman, Amy Linker, Merritt Butrick and Anne Beatts).

Meanwhile, Buena Vista has officially confirmed that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will street on Blu-ray Disc on 5/13.

New Line has set Over Her Dead Body for release on 5/6.

And finally, Lionsgate has officially set Rambo for release on 5/27 in full frame and anamorphic widescreen single-disc DVD versions, a 2-disc Special Edition DVD and a Blu-ray Disc. There will also be a 6-disc DVD box set of all four Rambo films that same day. No word yet on special features.

Back with more later if announcements warrent. Stay tuned...

3/7/08

That's right, The 9th Annual Digital Bits Bitsy Awards are on the way! We've been getting lots of e-mails from readers wondering when we were going to roll out this year's awards. Normally, we try to have The Bitsys up by the time Hollywood hands out the Oscars, but with the format war ending and all, that's kept us pretty busy lately. Now that the dust is finally settling, however, we're busy compiling our lists of worthy nominees and making our final picks. Does anyone else out there agonize over their yearly "Best of" DVD picks as much as we do? Our list of nominees is inevitably hundreds of titles long, and the process of weeding through them, watching various discs and features, and boiling the list down to five or six truly worthy titles in each category takes forever. Then, we have to start all over again to pick the most deserving winners. Seriously, we spend weeks going through it all. Probably more time than it's worth, but hey... if you dig what we do here at The Digital Bits, it's probably because we care enough to agonize over stuff like this. Anyway, look for The 9th Annual Digital Bits Bitsy Awards to debut sometime next week. We're not sure what day yet, but probably by mid-week. It's going to depend on how quickly we can tighten down the screws to everyone's satisfaction. So just know that they're coming and they should be worth the wait as always.

In terms of title announcements this afternoon, 20th Century Fox has set The Bette Davis Collection for release on 4/8 (SRP $49.98). The 5-disc set will include the All About Eve: 2-Disc Special Edition, along with The Virgin Queen (first time on DVD), Phone Call from a Stranger, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and The Nanny.

Fox has also announced 27 Dresses for release on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 4/29.

Meanwhile, Anchor Bay has announced The Dario Argento Box Set for release on DVD on 5/27 (SRP $49.97). Included will be a Tenebre: Special Edition, a Phenomena: Special Edition, Trauma, The Card Player and Do You Like Hitchcock?, along with audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, trailers and other special features.

Also, Warner is apparently offering an exchange program for those who purchased the previous 1080i version of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines on Blu-ray Disc. You can apparently identify the new 1080p T3 version by this barcode number: 3000016223. Call Warner's Customer Service number (1-866-488-4640) to arrange a swap.

Finally, in news around the Net today, The Financial Times of London is reporting that Microsoft and Sony are in talks about making a Blu-ray Disc drive available for the Xbox 360. Sony is talking with Apple about eventual Macs with Blu-ray Drives as well. Sony's Stan Glasgow also reiterates in the piece that he believes Blu-ray player prices will drop to $299 by the holidays, and possibly as low as $200 by the end of 2009. On the same note, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has confirmed today that his company does plan to support Blu-ray Disc in some way (read more here at NewsOXY).

All right, that's it for today. It's back to work on The Bitsys for us. All of you have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday. Peace out...

3/6/08

Afternoon folks. The Digital Entertainment Group has announced that it's getting behind Blu-ray Disc and "is developing a multi-faceted campaign featuring consumer education, retail training and public relations programs" to promote the format. As the DEG has long done with DVD, it will serve as a clearing house for information on Blu-ray, both to consumers and to retailers and the rest of the industry. The Blu-ray Disc Association has issued this statement:

"The Blu-ray Disc Association is pleased to have the DEG join ranks of companies and organizations that have recognized Blu-ray Disc as the global, high definition successor to DVD. As the BDA continues to drive promotional efforts and moves its focus to providing consumers with a broader understanding of the format and the benefits of upgrading to next generation hardware and software, we look forward to coordinating the efforts of the DEG and the many other supporters of the format to encourage and accelerate consumer adoption."

On that note, having officially backed the Blu-ray Disc format since June of last year, we here at The Digital Bits have some suggestions to all the Blu-ray Disc studios and manufacturers as to how best to make Blu-ray an easy choice for consumers going forward. You BD guys listening? Yeah, I know you are. Here goes:

1. Blu-ray Disc hardware prices obviously need to come down by the 4th quarter to attract more mainstream consumers to the format. Offering Blu-ray player/HDTV deals makes sense, given the FCC's mandated deadline to switch to all-digital broadcasting by early next year (at midnight on 2/17/09 to be exact - click here for details), but it would be good if there were at least a few BD players priced in the $250 range or better by the holidays.

2. The Blu-ray Disc Association needs to make profile 2.0 support MANDATORY on all new players ASAP, and all hardware manufacturers need to make their new player models profile 2.0 compatible ASAP in order to avoid consumer confusion. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. We're getting many e-mails from readers who are interested in buying into Blu-ray now but are confused by the multiple profiles (and if that's you, I'll explain them in a moment). This is especially important when you consider how many firmware updates have been required to ensure hardware compatibility with software - built-in Internet connectivity is key to making this process easier and more consumer friendly.

3. Blu-ray Disc software prices should come down a little as well in time for the holidays. They're still too high for most people - definitely too high to encourage impulse purchasing. Rebates and incentives should be offered to encourage BD upgrades of catalog titles for people who may already own the same titles on DVD (as Buena Vista has recently done). It also wouldn't hurt to have a few more MAJOR and much-loved catalog titles available on Blu-ray before the end of the year (including more older classics). There's no better incentive for a movie-lover to upgrade than the release of a favorite film title in 1080p quality, and at a price that isn't going to break the budget.

4. The Blu-ray supporting studios who have previously supported HD-DVD need to release Blu-ray versions of those titles previously exclusive to HD-DVD ASAP. This is especially important with key titles like The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Heroes: Season One, Battlestar Galactica: Season One, Transformers, Top Gun and Star Trek: The Original Series Remastered - Season One. Those titles encouraged many people to buy HD-DVD players, and now many of those people feel like they've been led up the creek without a paddle. Meanwhile, the exclusivity of those titles to HD-DVD is a major sore spot with Blu-ray consumers. There's a lot of goodwill that needs to be restored all around with high-def consumers (Special word to Paramount and DreamWorks: Having now abandoned your high-def consumers not once but TWICE, you guys have a LOT of work to do in this area).

5. ALL BLU-RAY DISC TITLES, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, SHOULD BE RELEASED WITH LOSSLESS AUDIO. In the same way that anamorphic enhancement became standard on DVD to ensure the highest video quality possible, lossless audio is critical to ensuring the highest sonic quality on Blu-ray. 1080p video is clearly stunning, but it needs the sound to match it.

So that's our advice to the Blu-ray camp.

Now then, about some advice to you Bits readers out there? We know that many of you may be thinking of buying a Blu-ray Disc player now that the format war is over, and there's definitely never been a better time. But here's a couple things to consider:

1. Blu-ray Disc player prices now start at about $399 for good models, but if you wait until Christmas, they'll likely be down to $299. Prices could even drop below $200 by next year (click here for more via The New York Times).

2. If the prices are low enough for you now, and all you really care about is being able to watch a film in great high-def quality and see MOST of the usual bonus material, don't hesitate to adopt Blu-ray now. On the other hand, if you really care about being able to access ALL Blu-ray bonus features, particularly the most advanced interactive and online features that you'll start seeing later this year, you might want to wait to get a profile 2.0 compatible player (which has Internet access). They'll start becoming available in May or June, and there should be many by Christmas. If you just can't wait that long, Sony's PlayStation 3 is both a great Blu-ray player AND a next-generation game system. It's already designed to connect to the Internet AND it will be firmware updatable to profile 2.0 later this year. So it's basically future proof right now.

3. Look for sales, bargains, deals and special offers on Blu-ray players and discs. There will be LOTS of them in the months ahead, rest assured.

4. Feedback counts! Let the studios and manufacturers know what you like and dislike. If there's a movie you'd like to see released, let them know. If there's a feature or function you think needs work, same drill. If you have a problem with a player or a disc, don't stop bugging them about it (politely, of course) until you get it resolved. Here at The Bits, we'll help on major issues affecting our readers whenever we can.

What do all these Blu-ray spec "profiles" mean? All Blu-ray players are profile 1.0, which means they offer all of the basic video, audio and menu functionality needed to enjoy movie content and most extras. Some newer models are profile 1.1, which adds the picture-in-picture option and a few other advanced interactive features (sometimes called "Bonus View"). Profile 2.0 players will additionally add the ability to connect to the Internet, opening up all kinds of online interactive options (you'll see these features often labeled as "BD-Live"). Later this year, most (likely eventually all) new Blu-ray players should offer compatibility all the way to profile 2.0. The reason for the different profiles is that both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc were rushed to market about a year before they were really ready. So Blu-ray was forced to start releasing players and discs in 2006, before all of the interactive specs had been fully finalized. Conversely, HD-DVD had finalized their interactive specs by the time they launched, but there was a reason for this too: HD-DVD's HDi interactive scheme isn't as advanced or powerful as Blu-ray's BD-Java. In any case, the different profiles are inconvenient to be sure, but they should be largely worked out by the time most mainstream consumers really start to consider buying Blu-ray players anyway. So it's mostly the early adopters who are being inconvenienced, and a little inconvenience is something most early adopters have come to expect when buying ANY new technology before the rest of society. So just keep all this in mind, have a little patience while you wait (if you decide to wait) and don't let the subject scare you.

Okay... just a couple more routine items of business...

In announcement news today, Lionsgate has revealed their DVD release slate for May. Look for 100 Girls, Bella, How to Cook Your Life, Doodlebops: Live in Concert, Speed Racer: The Next Generation - The Beginning and Oprah Winfrey Presents Mitch Albom's For One More Day on 5/6, Frontier(s), National Lampoon's Cattle Call, TKO and Tobor the Great on 5/13, Sight, The Entrance, Workout: One-on-One Training With Jackie and a Hamburger Hill: 20th Anniversary Edition on 5/20, and The Chair and The World War Collection (includes The Sound Barrier, King & Country, Angels One Five and The Captive Heart) on 5/27. Blu-ray titles are TBA.

Meanwhile, Buena Vista has announced The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning for release on DVD on 8/26 (SRP $29.99). From the press release: "This all-new movie features Jodie Benson and Samuel Wright reprising their signature roles as the voices of Ariel and Sebastian. Audiences will also find out how best friends Ariel and Flounder first met." I know some of you were probably wondering, "Man, I wonder how Ariel and Flounder first met?" Well, there you go.

And Fox has set Burn Notice: Season One for release on DVD on 6/17.

Stay tuned...

3/5/08

We're pleased today to bring you Barrie Maxwell's latest installment of High-Definition Matters. This time around, Barrie reviews Warner's Michael Clayton, The Brave One, The Invasion and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, as well as Sony's The Company and The Jane Austen Book Club. He also updates his regular High Definition Release Schedule as well. Enjoy!

Also today, you Trek fans might want to make a quick visit to The Rumor Mill this afternoon. It looks like the feature films at least are being spiffed up for release on disc again when the new J.J. Abrams film debuts next year.

In other news today, you Blu-ray fans should be happy with this: 20th Century Fox has just lowered the SRP of many of its older catalog Blu-ray Disc releases by $10, cutting them from $39.99 to $29.99. These include titles like Chain Reaction, Speed, Fantastic Four, The Omen etc. A select few additional titles have been price reduced by about $5 each from $39.99 to $34.99 (Kingdom of Heaven, etc). New and more recent titles remain priced at $39.99. Amazon has already started reducing their prices accordingly.

Meanwhile, Warner has set single-film editions of Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve for release on Blu-ray on 4/29 (and HD-DVD on 5/20). P.S. I Love You has been set for 5/6 on DVD and Blu-ray, with HD-DVD to follow on 5/27. Botched: Uncut is due on DVD on 5/13. And Warner has set NFL Road to Super Bowl XLII for DVD release on 6/3, with NHL Stanley Cup Champions 2007-2008 following on 7/8. For those who might be interested, NFL Road to Super Bowl XLII will be a 4-disc set containing the complete broadcasts of the AFC and NFC Championship Games and the Super Bowl, plus extras (SRP $39.92).

Also, Paramount has yanked the "HD" listing for There Will Be Blood from its release database, confirming that it was an error as we suggested yesterday. We do expect Blu-ray announcements from the studio very soon. On the standard DVD front, the studio has announced the release of Mannix: The First Season for 6/3, followed by Hawaii Five-0: The Fourth Season, The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume One and The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season on 6/10, and Dynasty: Season Three, Volume One, Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Fourth Season and Californication: Season One on 6/17.

Finally, there are also a couple of deaths we wanted to note today. The first is composer Leonard Rosenman, whose scoring work includes such films as East of Eden, Barry Lyndon, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and many others. You can read more here at Variety. The other is fellow by the name of Gary Gygax (see CNN story here). If that name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you Gen-Xers will know him better for the game he co-invented - a little something called Dungeons & Dragons. We roll our eight sided dice in his honor today. Both will be missed.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/4/08 - 2:15 PM PST)

Okay, we've got one more post for you this afternoon. First up, I wanted to let everyone know that The Bits will once again be teaming up with our friends at The Home Theater Forum and TV Shows on DVD for a trip to EMA 2008 in Las Vegas, June 24th - 26th. We'll have more on this in the weeks ahead, but you can find out all the current details and sign up here on this page over on HTF.

Now then... we've been getting a lot of e-mails today about Toshiba CEO Atsutoshi Nishida's recent comments to The Wall Street Journal. Specifically, one of the things he said (that readers have been asking us about) was this:

"What people don't realize is that Hollywood studios are going to release new titles not just for Blu-ray but for standard DVDs as well, and there are a far greater number of current-generation DVD players out there. If you watch standard DVDs on our players, the images are of very high quality because they include an "upconverting" feature. And we're going to improve this even more, so that consumers won't be able to tell the difference from HD DVD images. The players would be much cheaper than Blu-ray players too. Next-generation DVD players are in a much weaker position than when standard DVD players were first introduced."

For the record, this idea that upconverted standard DVD video quality will EVER look as good as true high-definition video is complete hogwash. Upconverting basically takes 480p video and mathematically adds scan lines to increase the effective output resolution to 1080p. The problem is that this process effectively magnifies the original video image. So if the 480p video has warts or defects (whether on the original film print or compression artifacting in the DVD master), those are going to be even more noticeable when upconverted. It's the old "garbage in, garbage out" principle. On the other hand, many of the new transfers being done for true high-definition releases on Blu-ray (and for a time HD-DVD) are actually being done at 2K or even 4K or higher resolution, and then they're downconverted to 1080p. That allows the maximum possible image detail to be included in the signal. An upconverted 480p DVD is NEVER going to be able to compete with that. That's not to say that upconverted DVDs may not be good enough for some consumers, but this idea that you won't be able to tell the difference is utter nonsense. Anyone who becomes interested in high-def, and there are more and more such consumers all the time, will see right through this.

We've gotten another question today from a few readers (albeit in various differently worded forms): Is there any possibility that Toshiba is negotiating with Paramount to stick with standard DVD and NOT support Blu-ray Disc?

The answer is no. We've confirmed that Paramount has MANY Blu-ray Disc titles already in the works, and we expect the first official announcements very soon.

Finally today, we've just heard back from Universal - Atonement WILL be the studio's last HD-DVD release on 3/18. All HD-DVD's previously announced for release after that date are cancelled. The studio is still firming up its Blu-ray slate and will be making announcements in the next few weeks.

Back with a new column from Barrie tomorrow. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/4/08 - 12:45 PM PST)

Paramount has just officially reconfirmed that There Will Be Blood will be released on DVD on 4/8. The studio had originally set the DVD and HD-DVD versions for release on 4/8, but then the title was pulled from the Paramount Home Entertainment online press database. Just today, however, it's been added back into the system in the following configurations: single-disc widescreen DVD, 2-disc widescreen Collector's Edition DVD and 2-disc Collector's Edition "HD". Since the studio has already confirmed that today's HD-DVD releases (Things We Lost in the Fire and Into the Wild) are its last, the new "HD" listing for There Will Be Blood can mean only one of two things: Either it's the studio's first newly announced Blu-ray (possible, but we think somewhat unlikely), or this is simply error - an HD-DVD title that hasn't yet been cleaned out of the database. When I tried contacting the studio this morning, per usual these past few weeks, I was unable to speak with anyone who could confirm anything either way. We'll keep trying, but in the meantime, you CAN at least expect the DVDs on 4/8. And according to what little detail was available on the press site, the 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD will include some 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes, at least 3 featurettes (The Story of Petroleum, There Will Be Blood - Pics, Research, Etc and Dailies Gone Wild), trailers and more. Here's the cover art for both DVD versions (the 2-disc version is on the left)...

There Will Be Blood: 2-Disc Collector's EditionThere Will Be BloodPatton (Blu-ray)

As you can see, we also thought you might enjoy a sneak peek at the Blu-ray Disc cover art for Fox's Patton, due in stores on 6/3.

Speaking of high-def, there's word from various sources (including High-Def Digest and Video Business) that Atonement may be Universal's last HD-DVD release, though the studio doesn't seem to be commenting officially on the record today.

By the way, Russell has checked in with our usual weekly update of the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section. As always, there's tons of new art and Amazon pre-order links to check out, and again a portion of ANYTHING you pre-order after clicking through our links to the online retailer goes to support our work here at The Bits. That includes DVDs, but also music, books, hardware, games - anything. We certainly do appreciate your support.

Finally this afternoon, we've updated our original AFI Top 100 Films on DVD list to reflect that fact that The Jazz Singer is now out on DVD. That leaves only The African Queen officially unreleased in Region 1 in an authorized DVD edition. And yes, we do know that the list is out of date. We'll try to update it soon.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/3/08 - 4:30 PM PST)

Here's a quick update: We've just been informed by Warner Home Video that the Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collection Boxset will NOT be released on HD-DVD format on 6/3 as we originally reported earlier today. The title IS still listed in the studio's online press database, but we've officially confirmed this afternoon with WHV's VP for Catalog Publicity & Promotion, Ronnee Sass, that it's an error. There will be no Dirty Harry on HD-DVD. Just FYI. Sorry for the confusion.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/3/08 - 1:45 PM PST)

So... remember those new Indiana Jones DVD special editions we first mentioned were coming back on 2/19? Well, they're finally official. Lucasfilm has just made the official announcement (also available here) - all three titles are due on 5/13 as we anticipated. This is the first time these three films have been made available on DVD individually (SRP $26.98 each), and they will have new bonus content. You'll also be able to buy an Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection box set of all three (SRP $59.98). No word yet on a Blu-ray Disc release (we suspect only the new film will arrive on Blu-ray this year, but you never know - we'll try to confirm). Here are the details...

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: Special Edition will feature anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) and 2.0 (French, Spanish) audio, An Introduction by Steven Spielberg & George Lucas, 2 featurettes (Indiana Jones: An Appreciation and The Melting Face), a storyboard sequence for The Well of Souls scene, 4 image galleries (Illustrations & Props, Production Photographs & Portraits, Effects/ILM and Marketing) and the game trailer and demo for LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Special Edition will also feature anamorphic widescreen video, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) and 2.0 (French, Spanish) audio, An Introduction by Steven Spielberg & George Lucas, 2 featurettes (Creepy Crawlies and Locations), a storyboard sequence for The Mine Cart Chase, 4 image galleries (Illustrations & Props, Production Photographs & Portraits, Effects/ILM and Marketing) and the game trailer and demo for LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.

Finally, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Special Edition will also feature anamorphic widescreen video, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) and 2.0 (French, Spanish) audio, An Introduction by Steven Spielberg & George Lucas, 2 featurettes (The Women: The American Film Institute Tribute and Friends and Enemies), a storyboard sequence for The Opening Sequence, 4 image galleries (Illustrations & Props, Production Photographs & Portraits, Effects/ILM and Marketing) and the game trailer and demo for LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.

That AFI thing was pretty cool (I was fortunate enough to attend the event back in 2003 - you can read my coverage and see a picture here). It featured a reunion and discussion with Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody, and Harrison Ford himself showed up at the end IN COSTUME as Indy. This was done to promote the original box set DVD release of the films. It should be very cool to see again on disc.

Here's a look at the DVD cover art for all three individual discs...

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: Special EditionIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Special EditionIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Special Edition

One other note this afternoon: Our Digital Bits Power Buy deal with DocDVD on Pioneer's Elite Pro-150 Kuro plasma is almost over. JUST TWO UNITS are left. So act fast if you're interested. Click here for the details.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/3/08 - 12:15 PM PST)

Welcome to March, folks. As always, the months do fly by...

In announcement news today, Sony has set First Sunday for DVD and Blu-ray release on 5/6, with The Cottage and the DVD and Blu-ray release of Youth Without Youth following on 5/13.

Buena Vista has set The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for release on DVD on 4/29 (SRP $29.99). Extras will include audio commentary with director Julian Schnabel, 2 featurettes (Submerged: A Look Inside The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and A Cinematic Vision) and the Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel. And in a very special Easter egg appearance, about halfway through Schnabel's commentary, Sean Young pops in to heckle him. No, I'm just kidding about that last bit.

Fox has also set A Good Man Is Hard to Find for 5/6, with Cover and Nora's Hair Salon 2 following on 5/13. And look for a Casino Royale: 40th Anniversary Edition and a City Slickers: Collector's Edition from Fox on 6/3, followed by Futurama: Beast with a Billion Backs on 6/24. Expect the studio to announce more details shortly.

Meanwhile, Warner seems to be re-promoting Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines on Blu-ray on 3/4, so one wonders if it's the new corrected 1080p version (the original version was 1080i - we'll try to find out). Warner has set the Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collection Boxset for release on DVD, Blu-ray AND HD-DVD on 6/3, which would seem to make it the studio's last HD-DVD day-and-date title. [Editor's Note: Turns out this was an error in the studio's press site database - Dirty Harry will NOT be available on HD-DVD. We've just officially confirmed that this afternoon with WHV's VP for Catalog Publicity & Promotion, Ronnee Sass.]

And New Line (via Warner) has set The Orphanage (presented by Guillermo del Toro, directed by J. A. Bayona) for release on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 4/22. Extras will include 3 featurettes (When Laura Grew Up: Constructing The Orphanage, Horror in the Unknown: Make-Up and Rehearsal Studio), video segments about the filmmakers, still galleries and the theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray will also include Spanish DTS-MA 7.1 audio, with English subtitles.

Around the Net this afternoon, The Wall Street Journal has a story up on what Toshiba plans to do in the wake of the failure of HD-DVD. In an interview with the newspaper, CEO Atsutoshi Nishida offers both honesty and spin. You'll have to decide which is which. Though if you need help, Paul Sweeting's got it for you over at Content Agenda today.

And here's more cover art: Universal's Atonement (3/18) and Friday Night Lights: The Second Season (4/22), Buena Vista/Miramax's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Sony's Jesse Stone: Sea Change (available now - that's for you, Mom) and Fox's Alien vs. Predator: Requiem - Extreme Unrated Set and Juno (both 4/15) on Blu-ray Disc...

AtonementFriday Night Lights: The Second SeasonThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Jesse Stone: Sea ChangeAlien vs. Predator: Requiem - Extreme Unrated Set (Blu-ray)Juno (Blu-ray)

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/29/08 - 7 PM PST)

As promised, we've checked in this evening to deliver you an in-depth review of Universal's new Battlestar Galactica: Season Three on DVD, which hits stores on 3/18, just two weeks before the debut of the show's fourth and final season on Sci-Fi. Rest assured, fans (and I am most definitely one) will not be disappointed by this 6-disc set. Enjoy.

We've got just a couple more quick news items for you today. First, Home Media is reporting that Genius Products and The Weinstein Company will deliver their next Miriam Collection title, The Fall of the Roman Empire, to DVD on 4/29. Look for a lavish 3-disc set, due to include audio commentary by Bill Bronston (son of producer Samuel Bronston) and film expert Mel Martin, a reproduction of the original 1964 souvenir program, examination of the real fall of the Roman Empire, an elaborate behind-the-scenes documentary, 5 Encyclopedia Britannica featurettes on the Roman Empire and a set of 6 color production stills. There's no word yet on a Blu-ray version.

Also, BCI has just announced a disc replacement program for Disc One of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Volume One set (the 2002 series), which has an authoring problem. You can call 866-641-3472 or e-mail HeManDisc@gmail.com to arrange an exchange (be sure to include or tell them your name, mailing address, daytime telephone number and the store where you purchased the set). As a bonus, they'll send you an exclusive art card with the replacement disc for your troubles

Finally today, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of writer and conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., who died on Wednesday at the age of 82. Buckley founded the National Review and wrote hundreds of books and columns over the years. I don't necessarily share his politics and certainly didn't agree with many of the things he said, but I've always admired those figures who rise above the usual partisanship to articulate their views with good humor and logical, well-reasoned arguments. He was the longtime host of Firing Line and more recently was a frequent guest on the Charlie Rose show, which I seldom miss, and I've always enjoyed listening to the two of them discuss the issues of the day. Like Art Buchwald, who also passed away recently, Buckley was an original and an absolutely fascinating thinker, and I wish there were more political figures on both sides of the isle in his mold. He will surely be missed.

Okay, everyone have a great weekend and we'll see you Monday. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/29/08 - 12:45 PM PST)

So what do you know? It's Leap Year Day. Someone said Happy Leap Year Day to me this morning, and threw me for a loop. Imagine a day that only exists once every four years. Go figure.

Okay... we've got reviews coming, never fear. Todd's working on some, the rest of the guys are working on some. Mine is taking a little longer than expected, because it's a hefty set that showed up on my doorstep rather unexpectedly the other day, but was a very nice surprise: Universal's Battlestar Galactica: Season Three. It's six discs of pure awesome, with great picture and sound quality, about an hour of deleted scenes, Ron Moore's podcast commentaries for every episode and even a special version of the episode Unfinished Business with 25 minutes of additional footage. You also get all the Resistance webisodes too (one of the things that helped touch off the recently resolved writers' strike) as well as lots of behind-the-scenes featurettes. It's taking me a while to go through all this material (there's 15 hours of extras in all), but I should have the full review up by the end of the day.

One quick but MAJOR bit of Hollywood news this afternoon: New Line is about to officially be folded into Warner Bros., though the studio will continue to exist as its own separate development, production, marketing and distribution entity. But all decision-making on the business end will be coordinated with Warner. It sounds like some New Line employees will be absorbed by Warner but many others will lose their jobs. First up on the pink slip list are New Line co-chairmen Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne. You can read more here at The Hollywood Reporter.

And in announcement news today, Universal has just set the Get Smart feature film The Nude Bomb for release on DVD on 6/17 (SRP $19.98). No word yet on extras if any. Universal has also set a Xanadu: Magical Music Edition for release on 6/24 (SRP also $19.98). Extras will include the Going Back to Xanadu featurette and the film's theatrical trailer, along with the complete soundtrack on CD. The studio has also announced that it's lowering the SRP on all of its previous HD-DVD releases by about $10 to $15 each on 3/4, presumably to clear out inventory.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/28/08 - 5:15 PM PST)

Boy, it never fails. I sit down to write a few reviews, and what happens? More breaking news.

It seems we're finally starting to get a little bit more of a sense of what Paramount and DreamWorks Animation are up to with regards to their high-def release plans. Paramount has just confirmed that Into the Wild and Things We Lost in the Fire (both due next week on 3/4) will be the last HD-DVD format releases from either studio. DreamWorks Animation's Bee Movie (originally due 3/11) has been cancelled on HD-DVD, along with the HD-DVD versions of Sweeney Todd (originally set for 4/1), There Will Be Blood (originally 4/8), The Kite Runner and The Jack Ryan Collection (both previously announced for 4/25). All new release titles are now officially due on DVD only for the time being, though industry sources are telling us here at The Bits that Blu-ray versions are soon to be announced. You can read more on this at Video Business and Home Media.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/28/08 - 11:30 AM PST)

Just a quick note: We're working on several new disc reviews for you - DVDs and at least one Blu-ray - and we'll have the first few of them up for you later this afternoon. So be sure to check back then.

Around the Net, both Home Media and Content Agenda are reporting on the Katzenberg comments from Tuesday in stories that are worth checking out.

And in announcements this morning, Fox has set the Fox Western Classics Collection for release on 5/13, due to include The Garden of Evil, Rawhide and The Gunfighter.

Warner has announced the DVD release of Prehistoric Earth (for the BBC) and Strange Days on Planet Earth 2 (for National Geographic) on 6/3, followed by NBA Bloopers Volume 1 on 6/10 and Illicit (also for National Geographic) on 6/17. Warner has also set the HD-DVD release of Dirty Harry for 6/3. Expect the DVD and Blu-ray versions about three weeks earlier (details to follow soon).

Meanwhile, Sony will release the new Raisin in the Sun TV movie on 5/6.

And Universal will release Friday Night Lights: The Second Season on 4/22 (SRP $29.98 - 4 discs - extras include audio commentary on 3 episodes, deleted scenes and a featurette on the Pasley Festival panel discussion with the cast and crew), Curious George: Takes a Vacation and Discovers New Things on 5/13 and James Stewart: The Western Collection on 5/20 (SRP $39.98 - includes Destry Rides Again, Winchester '73, Bend of the River, The Far Country, The Night Passage and The Rare Breed).

Back later this afternoon with those reviews. Stay tuned...

2/27/08

You know.... DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of those guys who just makes you scratch your head and wonder. Back in March of 2007, he had this to say on the subject of high-def discs to Variety: "Blu-ray and HD-DVD are a niche business. They're not going to become the next platform. I think for the general consumer, there is not a big enough delta between the standard DVD in terms of where it is today and the next generation." But then in August, his company takes a widely reported $100 million offer from Toshiba to abandon Blu-ray and go HD-DVD exclusive. Paramount is said to have accepted $50 million to do the same. Disney's Bob Iger called foul to the Hollywood Reporter, saying: "Those studios are largely taking easy money, and it will cost them in the future." At the time, Katzenberg basically side-stepped the payment issue by suggesting that the Blu-ray studios were compensated for their support of that format too: "It's somewhat disingenuous for other companies to suggest that they were not compensated for endorsing Blu-ray." Which Iger proceeded to deny outright at an investor's conference: "We haven't taken any money because we think it's far and away the best business. I think it's a foregone conclusion about which [format] will win." Turns out Iger was right. DreamWorks Animation proceeded to release only a handful of HD-DVD exclusive titles, none of which had much of an impact on Blu-ray's software sales momentum. Then Warner went Blu at CES. Every major video industry retailer went Blu within a month thereafter. Microsoft bailed on HD-DVD. Finally Toshiba officially threw in the towel on the HD-DVD format a little over a week ago, and both Universal and Paramount have announced their intention to support Blu-ray in the near future.

But now, just yesterday, Katzenberg has reportedly said that his company is still locked into its deal to distribute movies on HD-DVD: "We have a partnership with Toshiba and have an obligation to see this through. As you know, we have been well-compensated for our support. It really is in their court at this point to really declare what the next step will be. We're poised either way to jump into the marketplace when the conditions are right to do so." Either Katzenberg is COMPLETELY out of touch with reality... and DreamWorks Animation has the worst contract lawyers in Hollywood... or he's posturing for some reason. So what's really going on here?

Here's our take: He's posturing. Take this as VERY Rumor Mill-worthy, but here's what our industry sources are suggesting is happening behind-the-scenes. Very reliable sources are telling us that DreamWorks Animation is currently authoring and replicating multiple new titles on the Blu-ray format for release in the coming months, including Bee Movie. They're also working on an official announcement of Blu-ray support. So why the new comments from Katzenberg? Well, our sources are hinting that as of the day Toshiba threw in the towel, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount hadn't yet been paid the full $150 million they were promised for abandoning Blu-ray and supporting HD-DVD exclusively (it's generally standard practice in a deal like this for payments to be made in installments over the life of the deal, as various contractual milestones are reached). Both studios are reportedly negotiating with Toshiba as to just how much of the still unpaid amount they'll receive for having remained loyal to the end. That's why neither studio has officially announced new Blu-ray titles yet, and that's why Katzenberg is still talking about loyalty to Toshiba. Having taken a big PR hit with Blu-ray fans for abandoning the format last year, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount want to at least get as much of the promised payment from Toshiba too. As soon as this issue is sorted out however - and our sources say all parties are close to agreeing on a final amount - you'll see both Paramount and DreamWorks Animation start announcing new Blu-ray titles.

Anyway, with a little luck, all this confusion will be cleared up in the next few weeks. So just be patient in the meantime. Hey, we've been saying all along that this format war was all about the benjamins. It's perhaps only fitting that the end of it is all about 'em too.

Stay tuned...

2/26/08

Well... we've gotten a bit swamped the last couple days with behind-the-scenes business here at the site. So we're going to just offer a quick rundown of the latest announcements and other news while we try to wrap it all up.

First though, our own Russell Hammond has again updated the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section with all kinds of new DVD and Blu-ray Disc cover art, so do check it out. As always, anything you order from Amazon through our links supports our work here at The Bits and we greatly appreciate it.

Also today, we've kicked off FOUR new Giveaways here at the site, giving each of you the chance to take home copies of Warner's It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, Helen Mirren at the BBC, The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town, Showstoppers, Black August, Riverdance, E.R.: Season Eight and Dallas: Season Eight, VH-1's Kissology: Volume 3, Lionsgate's The Kill Point and also Puppy Plays the Classics for the kids. Entries will be accepted until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, March 9th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

And here's something for you Battlestar Galactica fans before we get to the regular news today: YouTube has a VERY cool 5-minute preview of the upcoming final season of the show (which starts on SciFi in April). The preview was apparently shown in Canada on the Space channel. BEWARE OF SPOILERS.

Okay... 20th Century Fox has just officially announced a trio of new DVD releases due on 5/20, including If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and The Night They Raided Minsky's. The studio also has The Cutting Edge: Chasing the Dream due on 4/1, with The Big Trail: Fox Grandeur Special Edition following on 5/13.

Universal has set The Land Before Time: Through the Eyes of a Spiketail for DVD release on 5/13, with The Jamie Foxx Film Collection following on 6/3. The collection (SRP $39.98) will include the 2-disc version of Ray, an exclusive Ray bonus disc, the Miami Vice: Unrated Director's Edition, The Kingdom: Deluxe Edition, an exclusive bonus disc for The Kingdom, the Jarhead: Collector's Edition and an exclusive Jarhead bonus disc.

Meanwhile, Warner has set One Missed Call for DVD and Blu-ray Disc release on 4/22, with the DVD/HD-DVD Combo version following on 5/13.

Warner and National Geographic will also offer the excellent Six Degrees Could Change the World documentary on Blu-ray Disc as an Amazon.com exclusive on 4/22 for just $19.95 (it will be more widely available this fall).

Buena Vista has finally revealed it's 8th wave of Walt Disney Treasures titles, due on 11/11. They'll include Destino, The Chronological Donald: Volume 4 and the long awaited Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow. Each will be a 2-disc set in metal tin packaging and will be available for a limited time (SRP $32.99 each). Destino is an animated film that began in 1946 as a collaboration between Walt Disney and artist Salvador Dali, but was never finished. It was recently rediscovered by Roy Disney, who saw to it that it was completed.

Upcoming Blu-ray titles from BVHE will include the Coyote Ugly: Double Shot Edition, Hidalgo and Unbreakable in April, and the recently announced National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets in May.

Meanwhile, Paramount has started to ship previously-released Blu-ray titles back into stores - titles that were released before the studio flipped briefly to HD-DVD, like the Mission: Impossible films, Babel, Aeon Flux, Italian Job, Rattle and Hum, etc. You can read more here. I've actually seen a few of these on store shelves in the last couple days myself, so they're definitely out there.

According to Home Media, Tai Seng has cancelled its most recently announced HD-DVD release, Dragon Tiger Gate, and will be releasing a Blu-ray version instead on 5/27.

Finally, Sony has announced officially that its first profile 2.0 ready Blu-ray players will be released later this year. Each will include profile 1.1 "Bonus Play" support, an Ethernet connection and a USB port for external storage. The BDP-S350 ($400) will be available this summer and will be firmware updatable to profile 2.0/BD-Live later in the year. The BDP-S550 ($500) will follow in the fall, and will ship with profile 2.0/BD-Live support installed. FYI, sources at Panasonic have also told us that their first profile 2.0 player, the BD-50, is due to arrive in stores in May or June.

Stay tuned...

2/25/08

Well... as expected, the Oscars were the usual boring and lengthy affair. There weren't too many surprises. I was pleased to see the Coen Brothers win for No Country for Old Men - a great film, though probably not to everyone's taste. I was also glad Daniel Day-Lewis got the Best Actor nod for his role in There Will Be Blood. Diablo Cody gave a nice speech. The best moment of the night however, at least in my book, was that not only did Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová win for Best Song, the producer had host Jon Stewart bring Markéta back out on stage after the commercial break to finish her speech, because the music played her off the first time out. Has that EVER happened before, where a winner gets to come out a second time to say their piece? That was a very classy moment (you can watch it here). Those kids are just too cute. Fair play to those who dare to dream indeed. You've just gotta love it when Hollywood outsiders upstage things at the Oscars. Anyway, click here for a list of all the Oscar winners.

In other news this morning, Microsoft has announced that it's discontinuing the HD-DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360. No word yet on whether the company will eventually release a Blu-ray add-on drive, but you can bet they're least planning one in case the format really takes off. You can read more here at Home Media.

On the announcement front today, Fox has set Cover for release on 5/13. The Shirley Temple Collection: Volume 6 has also been officially announced for release on 4/22, and will include Young People, Stowaway and John Ford's Wee Willie Winkie.

Meanwhile, Sony has set The Devil's Own for Blu-ray release on 5/6, along with DVD and Blu-ray versions of Saawariya and the DVD release of Bewitched: The Complete Sixth Season (in color).

Also, Universal has announced the DVD and HD-DVD release of the Best Picture nominated film Atonement on 3/18. The DVD will be available in two versions - full frame and anamorphic widescreen (SRP $29.98 each). Extras will include audio commentary by director Joe Wright, deleted scenes with commentary by Wright and 2 featurettes (Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement and From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic). The HD-DVD/DVD combo version will sell for SRP $39.98. No word yet on whether it will carry additional extras, or when a Blu-ray edition might be announced.

Finally today, Criterion has just announced a new batch of DVD releases for May, including Louis Malle's The Lovers (Cat #429) and The Fire Within (#430), as well as the 1940 classic The Thief of Bagdad (#431). The latter will be a 2-disc set, complete with a new restored transfer, two audio commentaries (one by directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, and one with film and music historian Bruce Eder), new video interviews with special-effects experts Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren and Craig Barron, producer Alexander Korda's 1940 propaganda film The Lion Has Wings shot during the making of The Thief of Bagdad, excerpts from codirector Michael Powell's audio dictations for his autobiography, music selections by composer Miklos Rózsa not used in the final film, a stills gallery featuring rare Dufaycolor images of the film's production, the theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring new essays by film scholars Andrew Moor and Ian Christie. Here's a look at cover art for all three Criterion titles...

The Lovers (Criterion)The Fire Within (Criterion)The Thief of Bagdad (Criterion)

More later, so stay tuned...

2/24/08

Just a quick reminder... the Oscars are on TV tonight for those who care about such things. Jon Stewart is hosting and he's always good for a laugh or two. Plus, I think Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are performing the song Falling Slowly live during the show - it's from the film Once and it's nominated for Best Song. Hope it wins. Once is an amazing little movie by the way. I highly recommend it. You can read Dr. Jahnke's review of the DVD here.

Also, it seems that Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Frank Spotnitz were up at WonderCon in Frisco this weekend to preview the teaser trailer for The X-Files 2 (due in theaters on 7/25). Nice! AICN has a report up on their panel, and YouTube has shaky-cam video of the trailer here. I don't know how long it will be up until it gets yanked, but I hope Fox debuts a better quality version soon. Tell you what... of all the great genre films coming this year, I think I'm as excited for this one as any of them. X-Files 2, Indy 4, Speed Racer, The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace, Harry Potter 6... should be a fun year. Sort of like 1982 all over again. It's just too bad Star Trek got pushed to 2009.

Anyway, enjoy and see you in the morning!

2/22/08

First up today, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Ben Chapman. If you don't recognize that name, perhaps you'll know him better as the character he played: The legendary Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ben passed away yesterday after a short illness, and he'll be missed.

In industry news today, it seems as if Genius Products might already be moving toward eventual Blu-ray Disc releases. According to our friend Suzanne Alt over at Video Business, they hinted as much this past weekend at a Genius investors’ conference in Dana Point, CA. Check out her column for the details.

On the announcement front, Buena Vista has just revealed that the National Treasure: Collector's Edition will street on Blu-ray Disc on 5/20 (SRP $34.99). The disc will include: "exclusive interactive bonus material including Mission History, a look inside the Declaration of Independence, with more than 70 minutes of new video content, along with never before seen audio commentary by Director Jon Turteltaub and Actor Justin Bartha. Additionally, hours of bonus features from the standard definition release are also included, allowing audiences to uncover deleted scenes, an alternate ending, behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes and more." Audio will be PCM 5.1. The film is obviously already available on DVD.

That same day, you'll also get National Treasure: Book of Secrets. There will be a single-disc DVD (SRP $29.99), as well as a 2-Disc Gold Collector's Edition DVD and Blu-ray Disc (both $34.99 each). DVD extras will include audio commentary with director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight, deleted scenes, The Treasure Reel bloopers and outtakes, 8 featurettes (Secrets of a Sequel, The Book of Secrets: On Location, Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase, Inside the Library of Congress, Underground Action, Cover Story: Crafting the Presidents’ Book, Evolution of a Golden City and Knights of the Golden Circle) and Easter eggs. The Blu-ray will include all that and add the Book of History: The Fact and Fiction of NT2 trivia game, as well as two more deleted scenes.

Meanwhile, Fox is trying to keep interest in 24 alive in the absence of new episodes with the 5/20 DVD release of the 24: Season One - Special Edition (SRP $59.98). The set will include "all 24 one-hour episodes and is packed with over three hours of never-before-seen special features including a Season Seven trailer, over 25 deleted and extended scenes, two all-new behind-the-scenes featurettes and more. Additionally the set will be available in collectible metal tin packaging that features special introductory letters from both series co-creators on their inspiration and challenges working on this groundbreaking show." Now what would be REALLY cool was if this were coming to Blu-ray as well. I'm just saying.

Classic animation fans will be happy to learn that Warner is delivering Popeye the Sailor: Volume Two - 1938-1940 on DVD on 6/17 (SRP $34.98). The 2-disc set will include 31 classic shorts.

For those of you wondering when Paramount is going to be announcing more details about their Blu-ray plans, the answer is soon. We've heard from a few replication and retail sources now that the studio has a number of new and catalog BD titles already in the works. We would expect to start seeing announcements in the next couple of weeks. On a related note, the studio has just pulled the HD-DVD listings off their press website (though the already announced titles are still in the database). So again we expect Blu-ray listings to be added soon, and we'll bring you all the official details as they come in.

A quick word of advice to Paramount (and CBS): You guys REALLY need to say something about what you plan to do with Star Trek: The Original Series - Remastered on Blu-ray, and soon. We're getting TONS of e-mails from frustrated Trekkies, some of whom spent a lot of money on the HD-DVD Combo version of Season One, and who are now trying to figure out what they're going to do.

And DVD International has a special upgrade offer for their new Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics disc, coming soon on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. The offer is just $9.95 for the new disc extended to anyone who already has the current HD-DVD version of Digital Video Essentials.

We've got a couple other interesting articles we wanted to share with you from around the Net today...

First, The New York Times has a editorial by David Pogue on the reality of physical discs vs. downloading... and why the latter is probably farther away from mass market than most people think. As part of the piece, he looks at each of the different downloading services available today and evaluates each.

Also, Home Media has a good piece on Ridley Scott's American Gangster, featuring comments from the director himself. I'm just hoping Universal fast-tracks this title on Blu-ray, because the DVD and HD-DVD versions were a mess. Is it too much to ask for a single release with both versions of the film in 1080p plus ALL the extras?

Home Media also has a report on the special screening event Image and Criterion held up at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater earlier this week to commemorate the new remastered DVD release of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. I was originally scheduled to attend and was really looking forward to it, but this damn flu bug has me good. I'd have been coughing all the way through, and there's nothing I hate more than watching a movie with some guy coughing his lungs up in the next row. Anyway, special thanks to Image's Garrett Lee and Criterion's Peter Becker, and everyone else involved for putting on what looked to be a fun event, not to mention the great work on the film and disc. I'm hoping to review the DVD release next week.

Speaking of Home Media, their latest print issue (due next week - available online now) as you might expect features extensive coverage off the end of the format war. As it happens, that war has ended the very week Home Media planned to release a special It's Blu insert supplement (you'll find it included with both the print and digital versions). Given how long I've been covering DVD and now high-def media, T.K. Arnold asked me to contribute an editorial column for the supplement: From the Blogosphere: The Inevitability of Blu-ray. You'll find it on page 14 of It's Blu (also included is a column by Scott Hettrick, and Arnold has something to say in the regular HMR issue as well). I hope you'll find my contribution interesting, so do check it out and let me know what you think.

Finally, we'll leave you this week with more new cover art. Here's Fox's 24: Season One - Special Edition, Warner's Popeye the Sailor: Volume Two - 1938-1940 and CBS and Paramount's The 4400: The Fourth Season (5/6)...

24: Season One - Special EditionPopeye the Sailor: Volume Two - 1938-1940The 4400: The Fourth Season

We'll be back on Monday (and all next week) with lots of new DVD and Blu-ray Disc reviews. So have a great weekend in the meantime, and we'll see you then!

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/21/08 - 3:30 PM PST)

Okay, I'm trying to fight off a case of this nasty flu bug that's going around today. That's why the Paramount news was up a little later than normal today - I was trying to get a little extra sleep this morning. But that's how it usually goes. The one day I sleep in, THAT'S when news breaks. Go figure.

Anyway, there are a number of interesting articles and editorials around the Net today on the end of the format war, the death of HD-DVD and what it all means for consumers and the industry. We wanted to link to a few of them:

First, The Globe and Mail up in Toronto has a story on Sony CEO Howard Stringer that's worth a look.

Beta News has an interesting interview today with a couple of industry analysts on what this all means for consumers. To their comments, I would only add that I think Blu-ray prices ARE going to drop even without pressure from HD-DVD, as we head into the holidays. Having now won the format war, the members of the Blu-ray camp are going to work very hard to try to move the format into the mainstream, and retailers are going to be eager to help them grow the high-def disc business. All this means you'll see MAJOR promotional pushes, and hardware and software deals in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year. With the FCC-mandated transition to all digital broadcasting looming early next year, LOTS of consumers are going to be out looking at new HDTVs, and just as we started to see last year, I'm betting manufacturers are going to be eager to offer them HDTV/Blu-ray player combo deals. I also don't think that downloading is going to really encroach on physical media for a while yet, and even when it does, it's going to have a bigger impact on rentals than sales of physical discs. More on that in a future column.

Speaking of physical discs having an impact, here's a bit of whimsy: A fire chief in Walterboro, South Carolina had his life saved from a stray bullet by a DVD disc he was carrying in his jacket pocket. You can read more here as well. I'll bet HE'S glad we haven't moved into an all-download world yet. ;)

Finally, here's a very good editorial piece over at Roughly Drafted. It's called Lessons from the Death of HD-DVD. The author looks back at the history of this format war, and what was going on behind-the-scenes at Sony, Toshiba, Microsoft and elsewhere in the industry, and talks about the motivations each company had for their actions, and the larger industry context and dynamics in which the war took place. One of the things I love about this piece is that it addresses in some detail what Microsoft in particular was up to: What they really wanted and why they were so eager to back HD-DVD.

Unlike so many of the most ardent supporters of either side, I don't have any particularly dislike for Microsoft or love of Sony. I really could care less about such things - I just love watching great movies in great quality. I'm a Vista user, and of all the next-gen game systems out there, I really dig the Xbox 360. I don't even have a PS3. But I'll tell you, I've been suspicious of Microsoft's motivations in this format war for a while now, based on reports from our many industry sources, and my own personal experiences with Microsoft's HD-DVD "evangelism" team. This piece fleshes out and supports (from another perspective) MANY of the things we've been saying for a while now, including the fact that it was Microsoft that convinced Toshiba to continue backing HD-DVD when Tosh was ready to give up back in 2005 (before these formats actually launched), and also that Microsoft campaigned on behalf of HD-DVD to prolong the format war itself. It's no coincidence that right after Warner announced they were backing Blu-ray at CES, Bill Gates started shifting the focus away from HD-DVD toward downloading. And it's also no coincidence that since CES, Microsoft - which had been the most vocal supporter of HD-DVD up until that time - hadn't said much else about HD-DVD until their statement on Monday that the format's failure wouldn't impact their Xbox 360 business.

One of the big reasons we here at The Digital Bits decided to finally officially back Blu-ray in June of 2007, was that we'd noticed that certain folks in the HD-DVD camp were saying things that made no logical sense to us, that were contrary to EVERYTHING we'd come to know about the home video business in more than a decade of working in and interacting with it, and that occasionally we even believed to be blatantly false. We also noticed that much of this misinformation was being spread to folks online in the various discussion forums and groups, who didn't have the perspective, experience and industry contacts to KNOW it was suspect, and these folks were in turn spreading it elsewhere online. This happened repeatedly. It was a deliberate effort to use enthusiasts to fight corporate PR battles, and finally we simply couldn't sit on the sidelines anymore and let it continue unchallenged. We've gotten pretty good over the years at sniffing out marketing spin and PR BS. And some of the stuff that was spread around was really despicable, even to the point of personal smears. We've never seen anything like it. Even back in the DVD vs. Divx days, it NEVER got as nasty online as it did with HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. And certain parties were deliberately fueling the fire.

Anyway, the Roughly Drafted story is an absolutely recommended read, even though I expect there will be some folks out there that simply won't believe it. We certainly can't (and don't) vouch for everything in the piece, as our area of expertise primarily lies in the film and home video realms - not the computer or gaming industries. And the site does seem to have an overall anti-Microsoft bent which we can't (and don't) endorse. But I can say that in the particular terms of what was going on behind-the-scenes in this format war, the author's perspective definitely jives with what we ourselves have seen and experienced. For better or worse, we believe Microsoft used this format war to push its own agenda, and it's been home theater and film enthusiasts - both early adopters and those waiting on the sidelines for this whole big confusing mess to end - that have suffered the consequences. We believe that without Microsoft's influence (as evidenced in this Business Week story from 2005), Toshiba and Sony would likely have been able to work out their differences in this format war, under pressure from Hollywood and retailers, just as they did back during the development of standard DVD (when Sony and Philips abandoned their own MultiMedia Compact Disc format to get behind Toshiba's SuperDensity Disc, which became the basis for DVD). Had that happened, there wouldn't have been a format war at all. Which means that this format war DIDN'T have to happen. And as a website long concerned with providing our readers with the best advice we can, making sure they get the best value for their DVD (and high-def) dollar and protecting them from begin taken advantage of, this really pisses us off. So if you want to know what really put the bees in OUR particular bonnet in this format war, here you go. We're certainly glad it's all finally over. It's just a shame that so many enthusiasts got shafted in the process.

As one final bit of icing on the cake, we offer this: A shinny new MSNBC story posted just yesterday in which the reporter cautions readers to "hit the pause button" on the decision to buy Blu-ray, proceeds to offer up all the same cautionary talking points that Microsoft and the HD-DVD camp have tried to sell to enthusiasts in recent months, and then proffers instead the "upconverting alternative" and downloading. It should come as no surprise to any of you that MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.

Special thanks to all the readers who sent in these links and others. Much appreciated.

We'll be back with some new disc reviews, so stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/21/08 - 11:30 AM PST)

NOW it's done. As in DONE done. Paramount just went Blu. Officially. Again. Here's the statement, sent to Home Media and The Hollywood Reporter this morning:

“We are pleased that the industry is moving to a single high-definition format, as we believe it is in the best interest of the consumer. As we look to [begin] releasing our titles on Blu-ray, we will monitor consumer adoption and determine our release plans accordingly."

Unfortunately, that was it. There were no further details. A number of open questions remain, including: Will Blu-ray versions of the just announced There Will Be Blood and Sweeney Todd be soon revealed? What about vocal Blu-backer Michael Bay's Transformers, which we've been informed WAS at least authored in Blu-ray? And for Trekkies who got caught up in Paramount partner CBS's HD-DVD exclusivity with an outrageously expensive Star Trek: The Original Series Remastered - Season One, what happens now? It's clear that Season Two and Three are no longer coming to HD-DVD, so when will ANY of them be available on Blu-ray? And will CBS and Paramount offer some kind of exchange program? All these questions must be answered in the weeks ahead, so watch this space.

By the way, one other new bit of Blu-ray information: The booklet in Disney's new 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition DVD confirms that Pinocchio will be the next Platinum Blu-ray after Sleeping Beauty (due later this year), presumably in 2009.

Stay tuned...


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