Sony & WB set DVD date

LAS VEGAS After all the industry infighting over regional coding and copy protection standards, after numerous delays in the release date for digital videodisc hardware and software, Sony and Warner Home Video finally on Wednesday announced plans for release of DVD movies and players. The plans were disclosed at the winter Consumer Electronics Show, which begins here today and runs through Sunday.

At a heavily attended pre-show press conference whose low point was an insipid DVD promotional video seemingly inspired by Calvin Klein Obsession ads Sony execs told journalists and industry analysts that its initial slate of titles would include “Jumanji,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition,” “Taxi Driver,” “Matilda” and “Fly Away Home.”

John Briesch, president of Sony Electronics consumer audio/visual group, said 20 titles are slated for release by the end of the year. In addition to the feature films, Sony Music and its Sony Wonder division will release “Sesame Street’s 25th Anniversary: A Musical Celebration,” “Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged,” “Streetfighter II the Animated Movie,” “Odyssey Into the Mind’s Eye” and “Beavis & Butt-head’s The Final Judgment.”

Music kinks persist

However, last month, Sony Music’s Ted Green acknowledged that technical points remain to be worked out before the music industry can fully take advantage of the format. Those points are under discussion among the consumer electronics, computer and recording industries.

At Wednesday’s DVD unveiling, Briesch went on to note that selections from that eclectic mix of titles would be bundled with Sony set-top DVD systems.

“We’re aiming this at the whole family,” he joked. Sony execs said hardware and software would become available sometime in April. As Sony announced last month, it is targeting the systems at high-end early adopters. The first player to hit retail shelves, the DVP-S7000, will carry a pricetag of about $ 1,000.

Sony also announced a promotion with Viacom’s Blockbuster Video. Under terms of that deal, Blockbuster will expand its existing promotion with Sony for a product called Maximum Television to include DVD kiosks that will provide demonstration forums for the new technology. Those kiosks will be installed in selected stores in top markets. Purchasers of Sony’s DVD player will receive coupons awarding them free DVD rentals at Blockbuster. Those coupons will become available in April.

Price uncertain

Columbia TriStar Home Video president Ben Feingold said the sell-through price on DVD software would “fall in the area between VHS and laserdisc sell-through.” He declined to be more specific. Feingold also downplayed the format’s lack of a recordability feature, saying, “That aspect is not essential for this business to grow. People don’t access the recording features of their VHS players to the extent they access the play features.”

Sony execs also emphasized that DVD will have the capability of playing back movies in either pan and scan, or in the letterbox format, which allows movies to be shown in their original aspect ratios. European audiences tend to prefer letterbox, though the format never really caught on in the U.S. except among videophiles.

Warner out front

Warner Home Video, too, announced several of its early releases. Warner plans to beat Sony to market, with titles hitting store shelves in March rather than April. Warner’s first slate of releases includes “Space Jam” and “Twister.” The company said future releases will include “Sleepers,” “Michael Collins,” “Mars Attacks!” and “Michael.”

On the hardware side, companies including Denon, Thomson, Yamaha and Panasonic will be hawking their wares on the tradeshow floor.

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