The following is a summary of a conversation I had with Ken Graffeo EVP of Universal Studios Home Entertainment on January 23rd, 2007. I would like to thank Ken for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and answer questions for our members, and Dane Estes from Weber Shandwick for arranging the call.
I communicated that while our membership was very pleased with the innovation Universal had shown with some of their titles so far, they were disappointed that we hadn’t heard anything about Universal’s upcoming releases in some time, especially in given the recent exclusive Blu-ray titles announced. Ken reiterated Universal's exclusive support for HD DVD and was apologetic for the lack of news coming specifically from Universal at CES. He said that a primary focus for the HD DVD Promotional Group at CES was highlighting progress for the format overall in addition to title announcements, and that Universal's priority has been on the quality of releases, ways to further expand the interactivity on their discs, and prepping titles for release instead of rushing title announcements. To make up for it, they have prepared an extensive list of list of many of the titles that will be released this year. (Note: I have attached them to the end of this report). And now let’s get to what HD DVD fans want to hear:
Universal will be releasing over 100 titles on HD-DVD in 2007. They will be very aggressive when it comes to catalog titles. Almost all new releases will be day and date. They are looking to focus even more on interactivity (will we see some internet content this year?). They have been educating filmmakers as to the benefits of HD: Better picture, sound and interactivity. Filmmakers are getting excited about the possibilities. I think it will be an expensive year for HD DVD fans when they see the new releases, catalog and TV titles available from Universal by the end of the year.
Here are the questions our members wanted asked and summary of the
answers Ken provided:
General Questions and Answers:
Q: Will you release titles on Blu-ray and if so when?
A: Universal currently has no plans to support Blu-ray.
Q: Will you release titles on the new Total HD discs and if so when?
A: At this time Universal has no plans to release titles in the Total HD format. They like the idea of the combo discs (DVD on side and HD DVD on the other) and Total HD won’t support that.
Q: Do you plan on including True HD or DTS MA lossless audio tracks on future titles (a lot of requests for this, 20-24bit preferred)?
A: Universal is dedicated to providing the best picture and audio wherever possible for each title (Note: Ken mentioned that he would check with the technical group within Universal Studios Home Entertainment responsible for determining what sound/picture elements are used and get back to me with additional information.)
Q: Do you have a release list for the next few months you can share with us (with specs)?
A: Universal got the message and the information is at the end of this report
Q: Will you continue to port over and further improve upon existing special features from your DVD releases onto you HD DVD releases?
A: Yes - Universal is going through and looking at the best existing special features, especially those that are suited to providing the best interactive experiences possible. Providing the best features in a timely manner is a priority. They want to be selective with what they put into their discs. Ken mentioned that the key is providing interactive features that enhance the feature. Expect future titles will continue to build on the interactive features seen in Miami Vice and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Q: Would you consider a two pack (one HD DVD, one DVD) instead of a combo disc?
A: There is added cost using two discs. Ken said that they needed to do a better job of educating the consumer on the benefits of the combo disc. Look for then to continue using it in the future. They are still investigating the feasibility of using it in some TV releases.
Q: How committed are you to releasing catalog titles on HD DVD in addition to new releases?
A: Universal will be very aggressive with the catalog this year. There will be over 100 releases this year. Ken stresses wanting to create the interactive experience when they have the special features to do so and not just throw titles out there.
HD DVD Title Questions:
Q: Why did the European HD DVD release of King Kong lack the U-Control feature of the US release when titles like Fast & Furious Tokyo Drift had it?
A: This was likely due to a lead time issue with King Kong in particular. When they have a disc with multiple languages, they need to put all the special features in every language on the disc. Since this disc was going to be released as a promo with the Xbox 360 add on HD DVD drive, they didn’t have the time to include the U-Control features with every language on the disc. Tokyo Drift was not under the same time constraints. Universal's goal is to keep the U.S. and European releases as close as possible.
Q: What was the source material for Spartacus? Was it not possible/economical to go back to it the way Warner has done with titles like the Searchers?
A: Ken couldn’t tell me the exact source material for Spartacus, but it was the best they had available. They were concerned about the quality in some scenes and did have discussions about it, but ultimately felt the release met their high standards for HD DVD releases. There are some titles that have been pulled from the release schedule because the picture quality didn't meet necessary standards.
HD-DVD Titles Wanted:
Q: Any word on the following titles making it out on HD DVD and if so what timeframe(s) and specs:
Back to the Future (trilogy)
Jurassic Park (trilogy)
Battlestar Galactica (new series)
Scarface (w/ remastered soundmix)
Children of Men
The Blues Brothers
Scent of a Woman
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer Special Edition (w/deleted scenes)
Sorcerer (William Freidkin)
To Kill a Mockingbird
Classic Monster Movies
Shaun of the Dead
Far From Heaven
Catch a Fire
Lost in Translation
The Man Who Wasn’t There
A: Some of these titles will be released this year; others will be a little further down the schedule. Universal feels the key to getting a great HD DVD disc is filmmaker participation. They have been educating filmmakers about the possibilities for interactivity, picture and sound available with HD DVD. There are other challenges like scheduling that come into play when working on DVD/HD DVD releases with filmmakers. Universal is committed to working with filmmakers whenever possible to put out the best quality presentation they can. Miami Vice is a great example of a title where the filmmaker (Michael Mann) was very involved in the design of the HD DVD disc. Look for Evan Almighty and the Bourne Ultimatum both to have a lot of great interactive content. The rest of the Bourne films will be out this year as well. There is no release date listed for Children of Men but they have special plans for this disc and it will be a day and date release. See the end of this report for additional title release information.
Q: Any other Spielberg titles in the works? If so can you give us the titles and release dates?
A: Nothing to report yet. See the answer to the question above.
Q: Any Hitchcock titles in the works? If so can you give us the titles and release dates?
A: Yes! Look for specific titles the end of this report.
Q: Any other Television titles in the works? If so can you give us the titles and release dates?
A: Battlestar Galactica is coming. There are other titles that can’t be announced yet, but lets just say there will be some day and date TV HD release surprises. No word on what packaging they are going to use for TV products yet. They haven’t ruled out using combo discs for their TV releases.
Q: Any word on the following catalog titles making it out on DVD and if so what timeframe(s) and specs:
Conan the Destroyer Special Edition (w/deleted scenes)
Lonely Are the Brave
Mary Queen of Scotts
Anne of the Thousand Days
Diary of a Mad Housewife
A: No word on these specific titles. Universal feels that they are pretty deep into their catalog. There will be some re-releases and more classics will be released. Look for more themed sets (like the Gary Cooper and Cary Grant Screen Legends collections). There will be more SNL complete seasons coming; they just take a while with all the needed clearances.
Here is the information currently available for upcoming Universal HD DVD releases. I am expecting that I will have more info in the next day or two, but didn't want to delay posting. I am waiting for a call which will (hopefully) provide more information. All are planned for this year unless otherwise noted.
As mentioned earlier Universal will be releasing over 100 titles to HD DVD in 2007. More than 90% will be combo discs. The first 40-50 titles will be released in the first half of the year. Some new releases coming are Hollywoodland, Children of Men, The Good Shepard, and Smokin' Aces[/i]. Planned catalog releases are Scarface, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Battlestar Galactica S1, Bruce Almighty, The Bourne Identity, Meet the Fockers, American Pie, Inside Man, Pride & Prejudice, The Big Lebowski, Liar, Liar, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Brazil, Erin Brockovich, Shawn of the Dead, Slap Shot, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind[/i].
We will be leaning on Universal over the next few weeks to see if we can get any details on the other 80+ titles that are coming this year. Additionally, Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits had a conversation with Universal this week that he will be discussing over the next few days so be sure to look for that.