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A Conversation with Universal Studios Home Entertainment


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#1 of 264 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 25 2007 - 12:18 PM

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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)
The Jackal
American Graffiti
Battlestar Galactica (new series)
Scarface (w/ remastered soundmix)
Children of Men
Inside Man
Carlito’s Way
The Blues Brothers
Scent of a Woman
Munich
Cape Fear
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer Special Edition (w/deleted scenes)
Sorcerer (William Freidkin)
Jaws
To Kill a Mockingbird
Double Indemnity
Classic Monster Movies
Brick
Shaun of the Dead
Far From Heaven
Catch a Fire
Lost in Translation
Constant Gardener
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.

DVD Titles:

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
Boom!
Mirage
Arabesque
Gambit
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.

Upcoming Releases:

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.




#2 of 264 OFFLINE   Mark Davenport

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Posted January 25 2007 - 12:28 PM

Where are the Hitchcock titles that were mentioned to be included at the end of the report?

#3 of 264 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 25 2007 - 01:03 PM

Mark-
Excellent question. I was supposed to get a list with a lot of titles (including some Hitchcock) late today. In the meantime Universal sent out a fairly generic list today with the titles above. I am working on trying to squeeze more out of them and will hopefully have more details in the next few days. I think Universal was caught off guard with the pressure this week from not only HTF members, the guys over at the Digital Bits and probably even the HD DVD camp to get out a list of releases. What they sent out is the first batch. I mean only 20% of what they have committed to has been listed, there has to be more they can tell us in the next few days/weeks.

I can tell you that there IS Hitchcock being prepped for release this year. I can't tell you when or which titles.

I can tell you that I don't think there will be any Spielberg this year, but what we have seen today is the tip of the Iceberg.

There are some day and date TV titles coming (not on the list above) that I am VERY excited about.

To summarize: I am glad we got something out of Universal this week, but I am disappointed that it is not all they know and I will be working hard to get the additional information as soon as I can.

#4 of 264 OFFLINE   TheBat

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Posted January 25 2007 - 01:10 PM

thank you for asking my question.

Jacob

#5 of 264 OFFLINE   Shawn Perron

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Posted January 25 2007 - 01:54 PM

This is strange. With Universal going 90% combo disc and Warner and paramount about to go 100% "Total HD" there will be no more straight up HD-DVD discs. One of the big advantages touted by the HD-DVD group was how it was much cheaper to produce a HD-DVD then a Blu-Ray disc, but every studio supporting HD-DVD has abandoned that advantage for some sort of hybrid disc. Considering the already $5 premium for combo disc releases, they seem to be handing the Blu-Ray exclusive studios a $5 price advantage at the retailers on a per title basis. I'm not sure what thier strategy is, but atleast at first glance it appears to be baffling.

#6 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:05 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Perron
This is strange. With Universal going 90% combo disc and Warner and paramount about to go 100% "Total HD" there will be no more straight up HD-DVD discs. One of the big advantages touted by the HD-DVD group was how it was much cheaper to produce a HD-DVD then a Blu-Ray disc, but every studio supporting HD-DVD has abandoned that advantage for some sort of hybrid disc. Considering the already $5 premium for combo disc releases, they seem to be handing the Blu-Ray exclusive studios a $5 price advantage at the retailers on a per title basis. I'm not sure what thier strategy is, but atleast at first glance it appears to be baffling.
Right, the HD DVD group will be losing some of my business as I will buy the cheaper BR versions if available. Furthermore, I will decrease my purchase of Universal releases because I have little interest in buying overpriced software from them on a function I really don't want in the first place.

Sounds like HD DVD is now making their own mis-steps.

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#7 of 264 OFFLINE   Porter H

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:10 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Crawford
Right, the HD DVD group will be losing some of my business as I will buy the cheaper BR versions if available. Furthermore, I will decrease my purchase of Universal releases because I have little interest in buying overpriced software from them on a function I really don't want in the first place.

Sounds like HD DVD is now making their own mis-steps.
I agree with that completely. This totally takes the price advantage out of the equation. I think its clear that DVD isn't going to be displaced for many years so the right thing to do is offer HD as an upgrade. Don't force people who just want DVD to pay extra for their discs, and don't force people who just want HD to pay extra for their discs.

#8 of 264 OFFLINE   Jesse Blacklow

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:13 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Perron
This is strange. With Universal going 90% combo disc and Warner and paramount about to go 100% "Total HD" there will be no more straight up HD-DVD discs. One of the big advantages touted by the HD-DVD group was how it was much cheaper to produce a HD-DVD then a Blu-Ray disc, but every studio supporting HD-DVD has abandoned that advantage for some sort of hybrid disc. Considering the already $5 premium for combo disc releases, they seem to be handing the Blu-Ray exclusive studios a $5 price advantage at the retailers on a per title basis. I'm not sure what thier strategy is, but atleast at first glance it appears to be baffling.
I was thinking the same thing. On the one hand, HD DVD does have a price advantage in hardware, although this is narrowing. Since Universal is the biggest (and arguably the only "major") exclusive HD DVD studio, they're going to be raising the average price of discs that you can't get elsewhere in HD (see also: Fox).

It does seem to be a little light on the classics that Warner and MGM are ramping up with, and we should hope that some of the titles that have suffered on DVD (Lebowski and LS&2SB come to mind) have better transfers. That being said, this is an impressive slate of titles, easily equal to Fox/MGM or Disney's lists. They've been talking up interactivity, so let's hope they're putting it to better use than painting cars.

ETA: Also, no release dates? I find that odd. They're going to have to step up against some monster BDs in the next couple of months, and I'm not sure the movies listed can compete very well with critical and financial blockbusters like PotC 1&2 and Casino Royale. And there are catalog titles being hinted at now (Hellboy, for instance) that the BDA is waiting to release just to steal HD DVD's thunder.
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#9 of 264 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:20 PM

Has anyone seen (I should say heard about) any pricing differences between a "plain" Blu-Ray or HD DVD release and a Total HD release?

Robert-
If Warner and Paramount go 100% Total HD and Universal going pretty much combo, their prices will still be cheaper than a Fox Blu-Ray. I wonder if Fox's pricing strategy is making the other studios feel that they if can put out hybrid discs and still be cheaper so why not? The only non-hybrid discs may be the Blu-Ray discs from Fox/Sony/MGM.

I for one like the idea of the hybrid discs. I have 7 DVD players at my house (not counting PCs) and only one HD player. I would hate to double dip on titles. Maybe they could move to a rebate type system. Buy the HD disc, get upto $10 off when you buy the standard one on the same receipt...

It will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next year. I am hoping that all player prices drop like a rock, or a "real" combo player shows up at CEDIA for under 1K.

Having the studios release in both formats just makes way too much sense so that will never happen.

#10 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:22 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Porter H
I agree with that completely. This totally takes the price advantage out of the equation. I think its clear that DVD isn't going to be displaced for many years so the right thing to do is offer HD as an upgrade. Don't force people who just want DVD to pay extra for their discs, and don't force people who just want HD to pay extra for their discs.
If Fox and Disney adjust down their BR software pricing in the second quarter of this year then the format war is basically over in my household. I think HD DVD is really screwing the pooch.

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#11 of 264 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:23 PM

With the amount of missteps on BOTH sides up to this point is amazing that the formats are both as far along as they are. Both sides have had opportunites to really make a big push and have dropped the ball more than once.

#12 of 264 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:26 PM

Robert-
When it comes to studios supporting both formats (Warner & Paramount), what factors do you consider when you are purching a title available in both formats, and of these titles which format do you end up purchasing the majority of the time?

#13 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:26 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich
Has anyone seen (I should say heard about) any pricing differences between a "plain" Blu-Ray or HD DVD release and a Total HD release?

Robert-
If Warner and Paramount go 100% Total HD and Universal going pretty much combo, their prices will still be cheaper than a Fox Blu-Ray. I wonder if Fox's pricing strategy is making the other studios feel that they if can put out hybrid discs and still be cheaper so why not? The only non-hybrid discs may be the Blu-Ray discs from Fox/Sony/MGM.

I for one like the idea of the hybrid discs. I have 7 DVD players at my house (not counting PCs) and only one HD player. I would hate to double dip on titles. Maybe they could move to a rebate type system. Buy the HD disc, get upto $10 off when you buy the standard one on the same receipt...

It will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next year. I am hoping that all player prices drop like a rock, or a "real" combo player shows up at CEDIA for under 1K.

Having the studios release in both formats just makes way too much sense so that will never happen.
Adam,
However, if I had to buy a combo-disc because I have no choice then I would rather buy such a disc with nothing, but HD material on it.

Either way, the studios are making this a bigger mess and confusing the public even more with increased pricing on their software.

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#14 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:33 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich
Robert-
When it comes to studios supporting both formats (Warner & Paramount), what factors do you consider when you are purching a title available in both formats, and of these titles which format do you end up purchasing the majority of the time?
Right now, I'm really pissed about these newer developments regarding software releases, not just from Universal, but Warner and Paramount too.

I don't want combo-discs, especially if it's going to cost me more money! Why is it so hard for these studios to get that point because I'm sure that the majority of consumers feel the same way about expensive software pricing.

If Warner and Paramount mirrors their BRD with what's on the HD DVD and the BRD is cheaper then I'm buying that format. My collection used to be 4-1 ratio towards HD DVD. Now, it's more like 60% HD DVD and it will continue to decrease until Total HD comes out then another shift in my buying pattern might occur.

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#15 of 264 OFFLINE   Shawn Perron

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:34 PM

Quote:
If Fox and Disney adjust down their BR software pricing in the second quarter of this year then the format war is basically over in my household. I think HD DVD is really screwing the pooch.

If anything, this might convince Fox and Disney that they don't actually need to adjust thier pricing since the competition is coming up in price to meet them. Let's hope the BD studios jump on this opportunity lower thier MSRP across the board and try to end this format war mess quickly. It's getting pretty ridiculous to drag this format war out any further just for the one studio that refuses to produce Blu-Ray movies.

#16 of 264 OFFLINE   Shane Martin

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:36 PM

Quote:
Either way, the studios are making this a bigger mess and confusing the public even more with increased pricing on their software.
A combo IMHO makes it less messier and on top of that could transition quite a few people into HD.

#17 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:39 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Perron
If anything, this might convince Fox and Disney that they don't actually need to adjust thier pricing since the competition is coming up in price to meet them. Let's hope the BD studios jump on this opportunity lower thier MSRP across the board and try to end this format war mess quickly. It's getting pretty ridiculous to drag this format war out any further just for the one studio that refuses to produce Blu-Ray movies.
I'm not going to paint Universal as the bad guy in this format mess! Also, I'm far from being either a BRD or HD DVD proponent and have little use for such cheerleading. I just want high definition software that is reasonably priced and right now, both formats are about to make that more difficult for me which is really pissing me off.

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#18 of 264 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:40 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shane Martin
A combo IMHO makes it less messier and on top of that could transition quite a few people into HD.
However, it's making it more costly to me or anybody else that are using these formats.

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#19 of 264 OFFLINE   Porter H

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:42 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich
I for one like the idea of the hybrid discs. I have 7 DVD players at my house (not counting PCs) and only one HD player. I would hate to double dip on titles. Maybe they could move to a rebate type system. Buy the HD disc, get upto $10 off when you buy the standard one on the same receipt...
I understand the utility in that completely, especially since I have a DVD player in the SUV that my daughter watches on road trips. My solution would be to purchase a HD DVD for a best quality disc, and then under my Fair Use rights, rip and burn to a Dual Layer DVD for about $1. Then, I'd have a full quality DVD that I could play on smaller screens and a full quality HD DVD to play on the big screen. I realize that you'd have to invest in a HD DVD-rom drive, but they're not that expensive(compared to buying combo after combo after combo), and getting cheaper every month.

#20 of 264 OFFLINE   Shawn Perron

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Posted January 25 2007 - 02:50 PM

Quote:
I'm not going to paint Universal as the bad guy in this format mess! Also, I'm far from being either a BRD or HD DVD proponent and have little use for such cheerleading. I just want high definition software that is reasonably priced and right now, both formats are about to make that more difficult for me which is really pissing me off.

I don't really care who wins as long as it ends soon. I want to actually be able to go out and buy movies. I have puchased over 1000 dvds and 0 HD or BD movies. I know the movies I want will come out in high def, so haven't bought many movies for over a year. You think it's a mess because you don't want to pay too much for a title, but imagine how frustrated all the people are that just don't want to get involved until there is a definite winner. All we can do is look at Universal and think "If it wasn't for that one studio, I could rest easy and just buy the damn movies I want without worrying". Oh well, I have to say the real winner from this format war is Netflix since that is where many people are being driven until this settles out.