Fox turns Blu in disc war

Studio joins Sony, Disney in format choice

Any hope of a near-term settlement in the looming high-def digital disc war went up in smoke Friday when Fox picked a side, opting to cast its lot with Sony’s Blu-ray Disc format.

Fox is the second major studio to join Sony, after Disney. MGM, now owned in part by Sony, is expected to release programming on Blu-ray as well.

The competing and incompatible format HD DVD, expected to launch late this year, has the studio backing of Warner, Universal and Paramount, as well as New Line and HBO, among others.

Fox has been leaning toward Blu-ray since late last year — it has been a member of the Blu-ray Disc Assn. board of directors since October — but finally decided to commit to the format as a “direct result” of the group’s decision to adopt a form of renewable copy protection.

The studio also has been part of a copy-protection committee of the DVD Forum, which backs HD DVD and had urged the organization to adopt the same renewable protection system as part of HD DVD specifications. But some within the HD DVD camp regard the system as unnecessary and expensive.  

“Blu-ray is a superior high-definition technology that is a full step forward in the evolution of consumer packaged media,” 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn said. “For consumers, the release of our films on Blu-ray will provide in-home entertainment beyond anything they have imagined.”

Group assails move

A spokesman for the HD DVD Promotions Group issued a statement calling Fox’s announcement “surprising and misleading in terms of which format provides for more robust copy protection.

“The content protection system of HD DVD provides an equivalent level of security as the system advocated by Fox for Blu-ray. We also believe the Blu-ray disc format and proposed copy protection system may result in playability and reliability issues for the consumer.”

Although some hardware companies still hope to get a few Blu-ray machines into the market by Christmastime, the format’s primary launch push isn’t expected until March or April.

Sony was essentially on its own in the first digital disc battle, in which the company eventually had to cede the most ground in a compromise format that became DVD. Toshiba, a leader of the original DVD format, is also the primary hardware proponent of the derivative HD DVD.

Fox didn’t indicate which titles or how many it will release in conjunction with the format’s launch. But officials said the launch would include new releases, as well as library and TV titles.

A press release included references to several titles from Fox’s library, including the “Alien,” “Die Hard” and “X-Men” series, “The Sound of Music,” “All About Eve” and “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“We are in creative collaboration with some of the best filmmakers in the business and the most important thing to the studio is that we continue to provide the best possible presentation of our films,” Fox co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman said in a statement. “Creative advances in moviemaking technology have consistently helped raise the bar in films today, and with the Blu-ray Disc, the bar has now been raised for the home viewing experience.”

(Paul Sweeting is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.)