Rival hi-def formats duke it out

Katzenberg talks up digital cinema

LAS VEGAS — The respective backers of the competing high-definition DVD formats had their first public spat last week in the closing days of the Consumer Electronics Show, as Jeffrey Katzenberg became the Hollywood celebrity of the day Friday and Verizon released details on its new mobile entertainment service.

The HD DVD camp, which has more studio support, made the biggest news, as Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal announced their first slate of tittles for the format, which they plan to release in time for the holidays this year.

Warner, which owns some of the patents used in the HD DVD format, announced the biggest slate — more than 50 titles, including library pics such as “North by Northwest” and recent releases including “The Polar Express” and “Million Dollar Baby.” WB is the only studio planning to release several of its biggest 2005 tentpoles, such as “Batman Begins” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in the format.

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Par announced more than 20 titles for HD DVD, including “Forrest Gump,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and the upcoming “Elizabethtown.” U has the smallest slate planned, with three 2004 pics — “Van Helsing,” “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “The Bourne Supremacy” — and 13 library pics, among them “Apollo 13” and “Conan the Barbarian.” U isn’t planning to put out any 2005 pics in the format.

Warner subsids New Line and HBO have several titles each on tap as well.

Fourth-quarter bow

Hardware manufacturers Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo plan to release HD DVD players in the fourth quarter. Reps said pricing likely will be around $1,000, meaning the player initially will be limited to the most avid techies.

Reps for competing format Blu-Ray, which has signed up Sony and Disney as participants, also were on hand. No product announcements were made, since Blu-Ray players aren’t set to debut until early 2006. But as the war of words between format advocates heated up, Blu-Ray reps cast doubt on their competitors’ plans. “They’re facing the same remaining roadblocks we are, so I think they’re going to miss a deadline of getting out in 2005,” said Richard Doherty, Blu-Ray managing director for format supporter Panasonic.

At an event touting their format’s attributes, including larger storage size than HD DVD, Blu-Ray reps revealed several new supporters from the vidgame world, including Electronic Arts and Vivendi Universal Games.

Format compromise?

At the same time they were pumping their own formats and showing off movies around the show floor, though, there was continued talk about the need to agree on one format. After speaking at a press conference supporting Blu-Ray, Buena Vista Home Entertainment prexy Bob Chapek urged compromise.

Chapek told Daily Variety Disney is floating a number of technical and strategic proposals to both sides at CES in hopes of encouraging unification talks. “We haven’t given up hope of a single, unified format,” he said.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation CEO Katzenberg showed up at several keynote addresses Friday. In the morning, he once again spoke with his company’s technology partner Hewlett-Packard about the massive needs his company has for processing power to create its CGI pics.

In the afternoon, Katzenberg appeared with Texas Instruments CEO Rich Templeton about digital entertainment and digital cinema.

“There is absolutely no question of if, it’s when,” Katzenberg said of the long-delayed transition to digital projection. “And I think from a filmmaker standpoint and a distributor standpoint and an exhibitor standpoint it cannot happen soon enough. It is has tremendous cost savings and is such a richer experience.”

Verizon Wireless on Friday revealed plans for Vcast, a service that will provide video-on-demand, games, news and musicvideos over the high-speed network the carrier’s rolling out in 32 markets.

(Paul Sweeting contributed to this report.)