Fox Makes Blu-Ray Push

Video quality, interactive features are the draw
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Twentieth Century Fox executives are showing off HD movies that Fox will be releasing this year on the new Blu-Ray optical-disc format.

Blu-Ray, which will deliver video in 1080-line progressive-scan high-definition and provide up to five times the storage of regular DVDs, is in competition with the HD-DVD format. Sony, Dell, a host of consumer-electronics manufacturers, and all the major movie studios except Universal support Blu-Ray.

PLAYERS DELAYED

The technology’s expansion has been hurt, however, by several delays in the introduction of players from Sony, Samsung and Pioneer. Samsung’s first Blu-Ray player, which will sell for around $1,000, is now hitting stores.

Sony Pictures has released its first seven titles. Among them are the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic The Terminator and Vin Diesel-vehicle XXX.

Meanwhile, the competing HD-DVD format is already on the market, backed by technology companies including Microsoft and Toshiba, as well as by the Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount studios. Toshiba players priced at $500-$800 hit stores in April, although, with limited distribution, units are hard to find.

MOVIES TRICKLE OUT

HD-DVD content continues to trickle out from the studios. Warner Bros. announced June releases of HD-DVD titles, such as Syriana, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon. But until the Blu-Ray battle with HD-DVD is resolved, many consumers are likely to be sitting on the sidelines.

To show off Blu-Ray earlier this month, Fox created a living-room environment at a Manhattan hotel, complete with a 65-inch Panasonic plasma 1080p display, to demonstrate several movies using prototype technology. Relying on a combination of a Pioneer Blu-Ray player and InterVideo WinDVD software, which provided the graphical user interface, Fox showed high-def clips from such movies as Independence Day and Master & Commander in stunning detail and clarity.

The demos only hinted at the full power of the 7.1-channel DTS-HD audio that is part of the Blu-Ray format, however, because DTS-HD–compatible consumer audio equipment is not yet available.

Another demonstration, which used a prototype Panasonic Blu-Ray player to show a clip from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, had no sound at all (the player is still under development, Fox explained).

Instead, this demo focused on the interactive features made possible by Blu-Ray’s use of the Java programming language. Among them: the ability for viewers to get a pop-up menu while watching the movie, launch graphic windows that give more information on individual actors, and save bookmarks of favorite scenes and store them on the flash memory of the Blu-Ray player itself. The next time the movie is cued up, the bookmarks immediately appear.

“The idea is to make it as consumer-friendly as possible,” explains Jacqueline Reed, executive director of DVD development for Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Blu-Ray players will also have the ability to connect to the Internet. A Java-based feature called BD Live will provide instant interactivity while a Blu-Ray disc is played, allowing a viewer to launch a streaming discussion with a movie’s director, says Clayton Biele, IT operations manager for Fox Domestic Home Entertainment.

UPDATE DISCS

Through BD Live, the content on Blu-Ray discs also can be securely updated, says Biele, letting users download supplemental language tracks as they become available.

Fox is planning to launch roughly 20 HD titles on Blu-Ray in the fourth quarter, including such blockbuster titles as Ice Age 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Omen 666 and Garfield 2, along with catalog fare.

Individual titles will probably have a list price of under $40 but sell for under $30 in stores, says Steve Feldstein, senior VP of corporate and marketing communications, Fox Filmed Entertainment.

A Blu-Ray release this year of a Fox television property, such as 24, is also a possibility, Feldstein says, but he cautions that no firm plans are in place.

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