Latest high-def battle is 'Pirates' vs. 'Matrix'

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Buena Vista Home Entertainment's big shindig at the Highlands Nightclub at Hollywood & Highland to celebrate the Blu-ray Disc launch of the first two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies wasn't just another glitzy Hollywood party. It was a massive show of studio support for the high-definition optical disc format, vying with rival high-def format HD DVD to become the successor to DVD.

The Walt Disney Co. contingent was out in force, from worldwide home entertainment president Bob Chapek on down. And there were plenty of other high-level executives from the two other Blu-ray-exclusive studios, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

One uttered a most telling comment to me as I was snacking on jerk chicken and fried bananas: "This is our moment. It's our time."

Indeed, Disney is hoping that this week's twin "Pirates" releases, coinciding with the theatrical bow of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," will be the watershed moment when Blu-ray ceases to be a novelty and becomes a viable business. The "Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Dead Man's Chest" discs are packed with novel special features, and the Disney team is so hyped on the release that producer Jerry Bruckheimer came out for the event specifically to talk up the benefits of Blu-ray.

If there's any rain on this parade, it's coming from Warner Home Video, which promptly nabbed the same Tuesday as the release date for the "Matrix" trilogy on HD DVD. Although it's one of two studios supporting both next-gen formats, Warner's heart has long been rumored to lie in the HD DVD camp, which is, after all, an outgrowth of the standard DVD platform developed in large part by its former president, Warren Lieberfarb.

Seizing the moment, the HD DVD Promotional Group announced a day after the Disney bash an ambitious marketing campaign of its own, from showing HD DVD trailers in movie theaters to offering a rebate on Toshiba HD DVD players that effectively cuts the price of the entry-level machine to $299. The entire campaign is pegged to the "Matrix" HD DVD release, which format backers see as every bit as significant as "Pirates."

So in essence, the much-ballyhooed format war between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD is being boiled down to a software battle between a pair of pirates and a trilogy of sci-fi films. And the ultimate winner is irrelevant. What matters is that both high-def disc formats are finally getting the push from Hollywood they need for the high-def disc concept to succeed.
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