'Mission,' 'Rings,' 'Kong,' 'Potter' head for high def

The “Mission: Impossible” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogies, as well as Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” will all be released on high-definition digital discs this year.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, nearly every studio is expected to announce their first slate of high-def digital disc titles coming to market in 2006. More than 75 titles (new and old movies plus TV shows) are expected with the introduction of the first DVD player, with dozens and maybe hundreds more by the end of the year.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the studio with the most at stake in its Blu-ray Disc format, is being the most aggressive, with plans to introduce the upcoming theatrical release “Underworld: Evolution” day-and-date with the DVD in late spring/early summer.

The studio will have 20 Sony and MGM titles such as “XXX” and “Robocop” ready to go even earlier, when players are expected to bow as early as March. Sony will also release four catalog titles each month beginning this summer; every new theatrical release day-and-date with DVD on Blu-ray Disc; and the first high-def version of a TV series to be announced so far from a major studio, “Stargate: Atlantis.”

Blu-ray Disc backers Fox, Lionsgate and Paramount announced their lineup of titles as well. Disney will announce its titles and other plans at a Blu-ray Disc media event at CES on Thursday evening.

Fox will have five titles, including “Fantastic Four” and “Ice Age,” in stores two weeks prior to the release of the first Blu-ray Disc player by any manufacturer. Studio will release 20 titles by summer, also debuting most new theatrical titles day-and-date with DVD on Blu-ray.

Each title will have at least one feature unique to the new format and will include 10%-20% of the bonus features from previously released or new DVDs and 80% new bonus elements such as advanced branching and menus. They will also include added value programming accessed via connections to the Internet.

Lionsgate will release its perennial new format driver, “Terminator 2,” among its first wave of high-def movies. Lionsgate president Steve Beeks says his company will be ready to release as many as 10 titles as early as March or April or whenever the first players hit the market.

Par is one of several studios that has opted to release titles in both the Blu-ray Disc and incompatible HD DVD format. Studio is announcing today at CES that it will have more than a dozen titles ready to go for both formats at launch and later this year, including the “Mission: Impossible” trilogy. The most recent entry is being released in theaters this summer.

Other studios planning to release in both formats, including Warner, New Line and HBO, as well as the lone studio supporting only the HD DVD format, Universal (the studio is said to be about to announce it will also release in Blu-ray), will announce their titles late Wednesday at CES. But Amazon.com lists many of the titles from those studios already, including U’s “King Kong” and “The Bourne Supremacy,” Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Batman Begins” and “Friends,” New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy” and “Seven” and HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”

Studios would not confirm the accuracy of those titles Tuesday.

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