As DVD Battle Continues, ‘M:I-3’ to Offer a Choice

In a first for the evolving home movie industry, Paramount Pictures said it would release “Mission: Impossible III” in three formats at once later this fall, including the two formats competing to claim dominance in the high-definition DVD space.

Paramount said “M:I-3” will be out Oct. 30 in standard DVD format as well as both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats.

Ongoing Battle

Those two formats, each backed by a group of industry heavyweights, are vying to emerge as the primary format for viewing films with more detailed, crisper images, suitable for playback on high definition television sets and home theaters.

To date, most studios have released films in either one format or the other, and Paramount’s decision to let consumers make the choice suggests that a standoff is in the making. So far, neither format has been able to generate sufficient market share to squeeze the other out of the picture.

Two-disc Special Collector’s Edition sets will be made available in all three formats, with the two new formats featuring higher sound and picture quality and additional features. Pricing was not released.

The two formats have gone back and forth in efforts to gain traction, with device makers, studios and others choosing sides. Sony has invested heavily in Blu-ray, while other DVD player makers have pushed HD DVD into the spotlight.

Choosing Sides

The dual release may lend credence to a theory that neither format will win the battle, and that before long, DVD player makers will begin producing dual players that can handle either format as well as standard DVDs.

Still, others believe the battle may be raging over a short window of opportunity, with video-on-demand more likely to become the most popular way that consumers obtain and playback movies before long.

The fence-straddling approach Paramount is taking has been adopted by others as well. Amazon.com said earlier this year it would use on-demand technology to make DVDs for consumers in the next-generation format of their choice when they order discs from the e-commerce site.

It will be some time before either format can get a foothold, with relatively few of the new format players on the market, and with the number of movie titles available to play on them still just a fraction of the movies available in DVD format.

“The consumers are going to decide which format wins, not the distributors or the studios,” said Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman. “The market will answer the standards question as much as any of the partnerships and endorsements that have been made so far.”

Dueling Formats

Paramount’s dual approach seems to support that argument, and the approach may even be a way for the industry to get a sense of what consumers want by offering the ability to compare sales side-by-side.

“If one studio supports Blu-ray and another HD, it’s hard to compare sales of two different movies,” Goodman noted. “Now you can watch sales to see which format is gaining traction and that will likely start to build momentum for one format or the other.”

On a technical level, Blu-ray is capable of storing more information in the same amount of space, potentially giving it an edge in some settings. For now, though, either format will offer superior playback fidelity for the growing number of HD-enabled television sets.

HD DVD players were first to market, and those machines are likely to gain an early edge, according to a recent report from ABI Research. The report predicts HD DVD players will make up about 30 percent of global sales of devices with DVD playback capabilities. That will change when Sony’s PS3 device, which will have a built-in Blu-ray DVD player, hits the shelves.

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