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Warner Stages ‘Total Hi Def’ Dual-Format Disc Kickoff

Warner Bros. gave its dual-format high-definition disc, called Total Hi Def (THD), a formal sendoff at International CES.

Several days prior to the show, Warner Bros. announced plans to begin producing a dual-format high-definition disc that would carry both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc content.

Warner sees the hybrid disc as a cheaper alternative to universal format players, like LG’s, but its ultimate success may be contingent on other studios also adopting it.

At CES, Kevin Tsujiharo, Warner Home Entertainment Group president, called THD “a solution that will allow retailers to invest in more inventory for a broader selection of titles and free up shelf space as title formats are combined onto one disc.”

“We encourage a one-format platform. THD appears to be the best solution for retailers and consumers in the near term,” Tsujiharo said, adding that a disc that will carry both formats will eliminate consumer confusion and fear of purchasing a player limited to the losing HD disc format.

The disc is designed as “a flipper” meaning one side will carry Blu-ray content while the flip side will carry HD DVD content. Both sides are capable of carrying dual layers for expand storage.

Warner executives demonstrated the reality of the format by playing one disc carrying high-definition versions of “Superman Returns” in a dedicated Blu-ray player, a dedicated HD DVD player and in LG’s just-announced Super Multi Blu hybrid disc player.

As for speculation that THD will add considerable cost to disc production, Ron Sanders, Warner Home Video president, said, “We haven’t announced a price as of yet. It isn’t going to be materially more. We’ve done some initial consumer research showing that consumer interest in buying a [high-definition disc] player goes up considerably when this disc launches because they see that there is a safety factor in buying it, and they are willing to pay a little more for it.”

He added, “So while we are not announcing a price, it is not prohibitively expensive, we know that. We’ve already made some discs that we’ve shown here tonight. So we know what the manufacturing cost components are, and they won’t be much more than regular high-definition discs.”

Warner executives said that Warner Bros., New Line and HBO will switch over current separate HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc production to Total Hi Def discs “in the back half of this year.” Title names and pricing will be announced closer to the release dates.

Other studios are beginning to discuss the THD now, but no other decisions have been made, Warner executives said.

As for licensing fees, other studios would pay to produce Total Hi Def discs, Steve Nickerson, Warner Home Video World Wide market management senior VP, said, “If you support both formats, you are going to pay [Blu-ray and HD DVD] licensing fees any way for putting out two formats. Now, you are just putting them into one package, so the fees themselves don’t change. Fees would go to the different governing format bodies as they do right now.”

Discs will be produced by replicators using both Blu-ray and HD DVD equipment.

Tsujiharo said Warner Bros. “doesn’t view [THD] as a technology. We view it as a solution, and so fundamentally this wasn’t done to try and create a new revenue stream.”

Sanders said that once Warner Home Video is “up and running and manufacturing [THDs], this will be the only high-def version that we will be releasing.”

Tsujiharo said, “We plan to put the exact same content on each side, so there won’t be a different viewing experience for HD DVD or the Blu-ray Disc versions.

“In an optimal world, you would have only one format,” Tsujiharo said. “But there are many industries where multiple formats have existed and flourished. Look at the video gaming industry — on the current generation alone, you have the PlayStation3, Xbox 360, Wii and a number of other handheld devices. So there are plenty of examples of where multiple formats have coexisted successfully.”