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Blu-ray region encoding causing lost exclusives?

13 September 2007

With the next-gen video format war being based almost completely on exclusive titles, neither side can afford to lose them. However, Blu-ray's vigilant region encoding may potentially put the high definition medium at a disadvantage to Toshiba’s competing HD-DVD format.

HD-DVD discs and players are region free, meaning that any disc will work on any player, regardless of where the disc was made. One of Blu-ray's security features (one that most studios prefer) is that is region encodes its discs. While making it's content more secure, this could turn out to be a snag to overcome.

Right now, many major movie studios maintain exclusivity with one format. For example, Disney Pictures, Buena Vista, and Sony Home Entertainment release all of their high definition movies on Blu-ray discs only. Similarly, Paramount, DreamWorks, and Universal only support HD-DVD.

Now we enter the grey area, however. The format that the movie will release on will depend on who owns the distribution rights to that movie in the country that it will be released in. Sometimes, several companies all own the rights; each in it's respective country. When this happens, occasionally a loophole will open up and a Blu-ray exclusive movie in the US will be release on HD-DVD in a different country.

One example of this is The Prestige. Buena Vista holds distribution rights for this title in the states, and is currently a Blu-ray exclusive company. However, Warner Bros. holds rights to this movie in several countries overseas, including Germany, France, and the UK. To make matters worse for Blu-ray, Warner Bros. has released this movie abroad on HD-DVD before it release on Sony’s format. This means that an HD-DVD owner could enjoy a Blu-ray exclusive title months before it released!

This kind of thing happens rarely, but usually with bigger titles. Other titles like this include the Saw trilogy, available from Germany, and Silent Hill.

Imported movies aren't necessarily as good for HD-DVD owners here in the states as it sounds. Many of these titles have soundtrack issues, or subtitles that cannot be turned off while viewing the movie in English. Also, the menus can be much harder to navigate in a different language.

Could this leak of Blu-ray exclusives cause a slight hindrance in sales? Probably not too much, as many HD-DVD owners do not know where to order imports or care to spend the extra money to have them shipped overseas. This is, however, one smaller setback to the BDA's campaign for high def. dominance.


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