HD DVD backers promise 200 movies

Studios say films such as "Million Dollar Baby" and "Full Metal Jacket" will be on new format by year's end. Photos: Toshiba's taking tickets for HD DVD movies

LAS VEGAS--The video format wars kicked into high gear on Wednesday when the companies backing HD DVD said that nearly 200 titles would be available for the format by the end of the year.

Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, HBO Video, New Line Entertainment and Warner Home Video stood up with Toshiba at the Computer Electronics Show here and pledged that movies such as "Million Dollar Baby," "Harry Potter 4: The Goblet of Fire," "Blazing Saddles," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Jarhead" (not to mention box office clunkers like "Sahara" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow") would come out this year on HD DVD discs.

In all, these five studios represent more than half of the movies ever made, said Nancy O'Dell, host of Access Hollywood and ersatz syndication TV celebrity who served as the emcee for the event at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Europe's Studio Canal and the Weinstein Co., responsible for hits such as "Shakespeare in Love," also will come out with movies in the HD DVD format, according to the HD DVD Promotion Group.

Toshiba, the prime backer of the format, unfurled two HD DVD players--a $499 model and a deluxe $799 model--that will hit shelves in March. Toshiba also showed off a prototype Qosmio notebook with a built-in HD DVD drive. Pricing, availability and specs on the notebook will come out later this quarter.

"HD DVD is now playing," said Yoshiihide Fujii, CEO of the Digital Media Network Co. of Toshiba. "HD DVD delivers a quantum leap in how consumers view video."

By May, nearly 50 titles will already be out, Fujii said.

One of the chief advantages of the format, as compared with the Blu-ray format supported by Sony and others, is that it is compatible with existing DVDs, executives said. Thus, consumers can buy a HD DVD player and use it to play existing DVDs. Some companies will produce dual-sided discs that will contain an ordinary DVD movie and an HD DVD version.

"Many consumers have made a significant investment in DVD libraries," said Greg Hart, Amazon.com director of North American music, DVD, computer and video games, and software. Amazon began to take pre-orders for Toshiba's units Wednesday. Customflix.com, a company Amazon acquired that burns DVDs for independent and small filmmakers, will give independents a potential opportunity to sell HD versions of their movies to the public.

Microsoft and Intel back the format.

"We have to make sure that content is easier to buy rather than to pirate," said Don MacDonald, vice president in Intel's Digital Home Group.

Many companies, though, will support both. Hewlett-Packard, the largest PC maker behind HD DVD, will also support Blu-ray. Studios will also issue movies under both formats.

"It's too early too tell" which will win, Matt Lasorsa, executive vice president of marketing at New Line Home Video, said in a brief conversation after the presentation. "The ideal solution would be a universal player."

The audience got a chuckle out of the suggestion that all of the kinks in home networking aren't ironed out yet. Kevin Collins, a senior program manager at Microsoft, told the audience of about 200 reporters that he was going to show them how phenomenal HD DVD viewing was. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the movie on Toshiba's HD DVD player to play after several attempts. Collins, however, did manage to get movies running on Toshiba's Qosmio notebook.

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