According to The Hollywood Reporter, the planned fourth-quarter rollout of HD-DVD might not be the big blowout it was supposed to be.
At a packed news conference during January's Consumer Electronics Show, three major studios promised a slate of high-profile titles on the next-generation format in time for the holidays. But two of them -- Warner Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment -- now say they might wait until 2006.
The third studio, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, is said to be reconsidering its launch schedule.
Sources familiar with the situation say the big bang could wind up a minor pop on the hardware as well as the software fronts, as key decision makers at consumer electronics firms and studios contend with fears of a format war and hopes of a last-minute compromise between Toshiba's HD-DVD and its Sony-backed rival, Blu-ray Disc.
Both camps have developed high-definition, optical-disc formats that use a blue laser and have significantly more capacity than current DVDs. The HD-DVD camp had hoped to get a jump on its rival in what many see as an inevitable format war by coming to market first -- Blu-ray has said it won't launch until next year -- but that goal now appears in serious jeopardy, sources familiar with the situation said.
Warner, which at CES had promised more than 50 HD-DVD titles in the fourth quarter, now says it might wait until first-quarter 2006 to release product.
"We are considering rolling back our launch in the hopes of a last-minute compromise, which would avoid two formats straining the marketplace," said Jim Cardwell, president of Warner Home Video.
Paramount, too, is backing down from its CES commitment to release more than 20 HD-DVD titles in the fourth quarter, expressing concerns that not enough players will be in the market to justify broad software support.
"The fourth quarter was always an ideal timetable, given the significant retail seasonality," said Thomas Lesinski, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures. "It may or may not happen, but it's looking more and more like product will get the significant support from hardware in the first quarter of 2006 rather than the fourth quarter of 2005."
Universal Studios Home Entertainment Craig Kornblau would not comment. But the Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed "personal familiar with the matter," said the studio, with a planned release slate of 16 titles, is scaling back to about a dozen.
Warren Lieberfarb, the former Warner Home Video president known as the "father of DVD," who has been a consultant to Toshiba in the race to develop a next-generation, high-definition, optical-disc format, dismisses the studio backdowns.
"Toshiba is going forward," he insisted.
Still, without much product in the market, experts see little chance of the format taking hold with consumers.
"I think the whole high-def market is premature," said Ralph Tribbey, editor of the DVD Release Report.
What's looking more and more like a delayed launch is the latest in a series of setbacks the HD-DVD camp has suffered in recent weeks. In July, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment threw its support behind Blu-ray Disc, evenly dividing the six major studios between the rival formats.
This week, the Blu-ray Disc Assn. announced new security features to address studio concerns about piracy. The group said it would embed an identification mark on its software that can be read only by equipment that carries its technology and that disallows mass production of prerecorded Blu-ray media, including movies, music and video games.