Move signals truce in long-running digital sound war

A little-noticed move by Universal Pictures appears to be a further sign of a truce in the longrunning digital sound cold war.

Starting in January, the studio began releasing most of its films in Dolby’s digital format, as well competing sound systems, SDDS and DTS.

In so doing, Universal joined a growing list of studios that now distribute prints playable on all three digital systems, as well as traditional analog systems.

The trend has been a welcome relief to theater owners, who previously complained that after investing in costly digital systems, they were unable to play product from certain studios in some rooms.

Because most prints are now compatible with all formats, exhibitors are able to make their equipment purchasing decisions based on a system’s price and performance, rather than on distributors’ corporate allegiances.

Additionally, in megaplex situations, a print can be played in digital sound even when it’s moved into a smaller auditorium with a different system later in its run.

Universal, which along with filmmaker Steven Spielberg, owns a stake in DTS, is one of the last studios to go to so-called “tri-format” prints.

Buena Vista routinely releases films in both Dolby and SDDS, but not always in DTS.

Universal’s “Blues Brothers 2000″ and “Kissing A Fool” have already gone out in all three formats, as will upcoming pic “Primary Colors.”

One major reason for the policy shift, according to Universal execs, is Dolby’s strong overseas presence. Domestic prints are often recycled for the interna-tional market.

There are about 7,000 theaters installed with Dolby Digital outside of North America, more than any other system.

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