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HD late to deliver on DVD bonus hype

Early extras fall short of promises

Mr. Incredible: “What are you waiting for?”

Boy on tricycle: “I don’t know, something amazing, I guess.”

Its Blu-ray release hasn’t yet been touted, but this snippet of dialog from Disney-Pixar’s “The Incredibles” nicely sums up where the development of bonus content stands for the new high-def disc formats.

Purveyors of both Blu-ray and HD DVD have told the public to expect incredible things from their new technologies, which use players with far greater computer horsepower and discs with much more storage capacity than conventional DVD. While the bonus features touted to date are far from amazing, there’s enough interesting stuff emerging to justify waiting around for what’s next.

Establishing itself as an early leader in the development of interactive content for HD DVD, for example, Universal recently introduced “Web-enabled” features on the high-def releases of “Heroes” and “Evan Almighty.” This functionality allows viewer/users who’ve connected their HD DVD players to the Internet to download additional content — such as movie trailers — as well as buy shirts worn by Steve Carell in the pic.

Par also integrated such Web functionality into its HD DVD release of “Transformers,” allowing disc users to access a number of interactive features, including a vidgame-style component that graphically assesses the health of the Decepticons and the Autobots as they wage battle.

“We’re looking at the Web-enabled area as a huge opportunity to differentiate HD DVD from DVD,” says Jeff Radoycis, senior VP of worldwide DVD production and technical operations for Paramount Home Entertainment. “We can now deliver new content a year after the title was released if we want to.”

“If all we do is put high-def movies on discs, we’re going to have a niche Laserdisc business,” U homevid topper Craig Kornblau told Variety in August. “It’s about creating a unique experience compared to the one we have with DVD. If all we do is make it look a little better, that’s not a business.”

On the Blu-ray side, Sony is making the most of the technology’s 50 gigabyte storage capacity on its “30th Anniversary Ultimate” edition of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” cramming three uncompressed versions of the film onto a single disc. A second disc includes interactive components such as picture-in-picture “storyboard-to-scene comparisons” to go along with a new interview from helmer Steven Spielberg.

Of course, while running them concurrent with movie playback or downloading them from the Internet is a novel approach, the bonus features being offered up by these new technologies aren’t necessarily groundbreaking in and of themselves — we’re still talking about trailers and storyboards here.

Which begs the question: Will Blu-ray and HD DVD eventually offer a viewer experience totally unlike anything ever delivered via DVD?

Maybe not yet. For his part, Ken Graffeo, exec VP of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, says that both technologies are still in the early phases of their development. “We’re targeting the MySpace generation, and we want to look 10 years out,” he says. “We’re looking at the future and how they’re interacting online.”