DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

HOME en­ter­tain­ment re­search con­sul­tancy GfK Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Gary Lamb was suc­cinct in de­scrib­ing at a mini- con­fer­ence the five key in­flu­ences on the growth of dig­i­tal mar­kets.

He cited con­sumer debt lev­els, com­pe­ti­tion for en­ter­tain­ment time and be­havioural in­er­tia among the hur­dles to fur­ther growth for dig­i­tal for­mats such as on­line video, dig­i­tal cam­eras and high- def­i­ni­tion television.

Two other fac­tors he named ap­pear par­tic­u­larly pre­scient for the new HD- DVD and Blu- ray for­mats be­ing in­tro­duced into what was thought to be a ma­ture busi­ness model: the DVD mar­ket. Lamb sug­gested ed­u­ca­tion and sim­plic­ity or com­mon stan­dards as key in­flu­ences on con­sumer be­hav­iour.

Hands up those ei­ther wait­ing for a high­def­i­ni­tion for­mat to win or can’t be both­ered col­lect­ing an­other set of dif­fer­ently for­mat­ted DVDs? It’s as­tound­ing to think the con­sumer elec­tronic in­dus­try con­ceived of du­elling for­mats again af­ter its video­tape fi­asco in the 1980s. Any­way, as each day passes, an­other el­e­ment in the cases for or against ei­ther Blu­ray or HD- DVD emerges.

Last week came what might be a killer blow. Amer­i­can rental gi­ant Block­buster has de­cided to stock only Blu- ray discs in the vast ma­jor­ity of its na­tion­wide lo­ca­tions. It will con­tinue to of­fer HD- DVD ti­tles on­line and in about one- sixth of the stores that have been test­ing both for­mats.

AP re­ports that Block­buster’s de­ci­sion is based on more ti­tles be­ing avail­able and cus­tomer pref­er­ence, al­though that pref­er­ence was al­ways stacked against HDDVD when Blu- ray had exclusive ti­tles such as Spi­der- Man and Pi­rates of the Caribbean , ti­tles that would ap­peal to the early adopters of new tech­nol­ogy, young males.

Block­buster’s de­ci­sion helps Blu- ray by mak­ing a state­ment that it be­lieves the for­mat to be the best bet for con­sumers. It’s also a self- serv­ing de­ci­sion, al­most pre- empt­ing buy­ing de­ci­sions with some tough talk.

Even more in­ter­est­ing is the re­ac­tion to Block­buster’s state­ment. It wasn’t so long ago that ev­ery­one was writ­ing off rental stores as we awaited the shift to down­load­able movies. The ex­pe­ri­ence, at least in the US, shows the DVD rental store around the cor­ner, or kilo­me­tres away ad­ja­cent to the windswept shop­ping cen­tre car park, is a re­silient beast. And sat­is­fac­tory movie down­load­ing just isn’t here yet, and that’s be­fore any­one even tries to down­load high- def­i­ni­tion movies.

All this tech and com­pat­i­bil­ity talk is mak­ing my brain hurt. Truth be known, I’m al­ready a Blu- ray con­vert be­cause the drive on the PlayS­ta­tion 3 is in­fin­itely qui­eter than that of the Xbox 360. And when you’re into moody east­ern Euro­pean art- house cin­ema, as I am, the ab­sence of that an­noy­ing whir is enough to con­vince you which high- def­i­ni­tion player and discs to choose, no mat­ter what a big US re­tail chain tells us.

And that’s the last you’ll hear on the for­mat war for some time, I prom­ise. Let’s con­cen­trate on what’s on the discs, shall we?

To be sure, DVD con­tent con­tin­ues to grow, with the latest big player to com­mit to straight- to- DVD films be­ing The Ma­trix’s pro­ducer, Joel Sil­ver. His Dark Cas­tle En­ter­tain­ment hor­ror genre la­bel, the ge­niuses who gave Paris Hil­ton a shot at act­ing in 2005’ s House of Wax ( no, she didn’t melt, she stripped), has signed a deal to pro­duce films for Warner Pre­miere, be­gin­ning with the se­quel Re­turn to House on Haunted Hill . Can’t wait.

* * * DISC WATCH: Miss Pot­ter ( Icon, G, $ 29.99). One of those films that should work par­tic­u­larly well on DVD given its un­der­stated style and sub­ject, the revered chil­dren’s au­thor. A faith­ful biopic that’s a stark change from biopics about messed- up mu­sic types. bodeym@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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