Sony dives into the Blu

Homevid market hit with title wave

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has kicked off the Blu-ray title wave, announcing the first releases and setting a retail pricing range from $29.95 for catalog pics to $34.95 for new movies.

Titles in the Sony’s first wave include “The Fifth Element,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Hitch,” “House of Flying Daggers,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Stealth.”

MGM titles (now controlled by Sony) include “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Last Waltz,” “Robocop,” “Species” and “The Terminator.”

Among the new releases from Sony will be “Underworld: Evolution,” which is expected to hit DVD and Blu-ray in early summer.

No other studio has yet announced retail prices for new releases, but Warner Home Video said recently that catalog titles on HD DVD would also be priced at $29.95.

At one time, the new high-def formats were expected to command premium prices, but as the battle between the contending format camps has heated up, neither has wanted to give the other an edge in the marketplace.

An announcement on street dates is expected later this week.

The first HD DVD titles are slated to hit store shelves March 28.

In an effort to ensure a strong impression at retail, availability of the first Blu-ray discs will be restricted to retail outlets that also carry Blu-ray hardware — a decision that could anger some video specialty retailers if the policy remains in place for long.

In recent weeks, prominent software retailers such as Netflix and Movie Gallery have issued statements saying they expect the new formats to give the rental market a shot in the arm and are looking forward to stocking both Blu-ray and HD DVD movies as soon as they’re available.