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HD DVD Gets Microsoft HDi Boost

Microsoft’s HD DVD evangelist said the company will be a difference maker in the battle between the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats.

Kevin Collins, Microsoft’s HD DVD evangelism director, met with select members of the press while in town for the recent Toshiba press event, where the launch of a firmware update giving all Toshiba HD DVD players the ability to connect to the Internet was announced.

The function will enable movie producers to build key extras into HD DVD discs, including the ability to download continuously changing content.

“When the first titles with Web-enabled extras come to market, you will start to see the distinct disparity between the formats when it comes to interactivity,” Collins said.

Some of the first titles with Web-enabled features coming to market include “Blood Diamond” and “The 300.”

In “The 300,” for example, viewers are given the ability to call up a picture-in-picture image over a scene, showing how the image looked before blue-screen computer-generated graphics were added.

In Warner Home Video’s “Blood Diamond” (out now) viewers are given the chance to participate in online polls and instantly view how a response gauges with “the online community” for the film. Other extras that benefit from the connectivity include strategy-oriented video games in “The 300” (due July 31).

In a title soon to be announced, Collins said the connectivity will open the ability to make e-commerce purchases of certain apparel items featured in the film.

“With the network people can download just what they are interested in and they can get rid of what they are not interested in. You have unlimited capacity,” Collins said.

In addition, some studios have encoded hidden content on discs that can be unlocked using special keys downloaded from the studio’s Web site.

Written into the mandatory spec for all HD DVD players is a “persistent storage” requirement, meaning flash memory that will enable temporary downloads of extras content after network connections have been established.

Although the Blu-ray spec has BD Live interactivity available, Collins pointed out that no currently available dedicated Blu-ray Disc player offers a network connection.

“Network connectivity is not mandatory in the Blu-ray spec — it has always been optional,” Collins said. “The only player that has the ability to connect to the Internet is the PS3 and that’s not BD Live compatible yet, so there is no one that can do networking.”

Ultimately, Collins said market share is going to force more studios to support both formats.

“You can look at the market share numbers from Paramount for DVD — they are single digit. You look at Paramount’s numbers for HD, because they do both formats, they are double digit,” said Collins. “When you look at market share numbers for Fox and Disney, they are double digit for DVD. You look at their market share numbers for HD discs, they are single digit, because they only do Blu-ray.

“Paramount, even though they have single digit share in DVD, does twice the numbers of Fox and DVD in HD because they do both formats. Shareholders are going to look to that and wonder why they are leaving money on the table,” Collins continued.

Collins also said combo players for LG and Samsung and combo DVD/HD DVD discs will help to keep demand going for both formats.

Another good sign for HD DVD, Collins said, is the fact that the DVD Forum’s Steering Committee recently agreed to allow Chinese manufacturers to produce HD DVD players supporting discs produced only for that region. The decision, he said, should clear the way for Chinese manufacturers to soon begin production of HD DVD players for global markets, which could lead to significant price reductions on players down the line.

“This all speaks volumes to the longevity of the HD DVD format,” Collins surmised.”