Blu ray makes a splash with titles in Japan

Kenji Hall

The content war for the rival next-generation DVD formats is upon us. At a splashy event in Tokyo, the Blu-ray disc camp—which includes 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Time Warner's Warner Bros., Viacom and Walt Disney--has just announced 75 movie titles for the Japanese market. That means anyone in Japan will get to watch Tomb Raider and Da Vinci Code in what the purveyors of this technology promise to be ultraclear, high-definition images. So far, only a handful of consumer-electronics makers in the two formats have come out with or will soon launch their high-definition DVD players. But as with video games, it's hardly the box that will decide which of the formats—Blu-ray or HD DVD—will prevail. Content is key.

Blu-ray's high-octane event in Tokyo gives it nearly twice the number of titles of the HD DVD camp here (HD DVD has announced 140 titles for the U.S.). But most people will be content to watch from the sidelines (and watch regular old DVDs) until one side picks up momentum and prices on the DVD players and recorders--which range from $500 for a Toshiba HD DVD player to $1,500 for a Pioneer Blu-ray player--start to fall. So who's the target audience? Gamers, mostly, I would think. They'll be the ones snapping up the Sony PlayStation 3 (with its built-in Blu-ray disc player) and add-on HD DVD players for Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles. It's well known that Sony's high-volume PS2 (now past its 100 millionth unit) helped DVDs become a more popular medium.

One of the questions hanging over the Blu-ray camp was whether the two-layer discs, holding up to 50 gigabytes, could be mass produced. (HD DVD holds less, at 30GB.) There was talk of trouble with the superthin polymer coating for the discs. But that seems to have been solved, with Sony saying just a couple of weeks ago that it had begun shipping recordable, write-once 50GB discs. For an early sense of how this competition will evolve, keep an eye on gamers.

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