update One major issue holding back early adopters from plunging headfirst into the world of Blu-ray or HD DVD has been the dearth of commercial content available in Australia. What's the use of having hot new next-generation hardware if you can't watch any of the movies that are supposed to be so visually and sonically astounding?
After a long wait -- and amidst the format war that's only just getting started -- Blu-ray and HD DVD titles are finally hitting Australian shores. Here's a look at what's around.
What titles are available in Australia?
As we speed further into 2007, more commercial Blu-ray and HD DVD content will be finding its way onto the market. Sure, the list of upcoming releases isn't exactly mammoth so far, but the trickle has become a steady stream. Here is a list of what is already available to take home:
How much do high-def DVDs cost?
Pricing is a little higher than standard DVDs. Representatives from Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. and Universal told CNET.com.au they expect to release both discs with a recommended retail price of $39.95. Local online retailer EzyDVD has Blu-ray and HD DVD titles listed from $29.83 to $49.83.
Are Blu-ray and HD DVD discs region coded?
There are three region codes for Blu-ray discs:
- Region A: North America, Central America, South America, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia
- Region B: Europe (EU), Africa, Middle East, New Zealand, Australia
- Region C: China, India, Russia, rest of the world
The waters are a lot murkier as far as HD DVD is concerned. The DVD Forum, an industry association which sets standards for the DVD and HD DVD formats, is currently investigating the logistics of region coding. While commercial titles are not subject to restrictions at the moment, it's unlikely that things will stay that way. Region coding allows studios to have greater control over worldwide release dates and distribution, and we would be very surprised if the movie makers allowed HD DVD free reign while imposing restrictions on Blu-ray.
What titles have been released overseas?
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of Blu-ray and HD DVD titles that have been released in the United States. While most releases are recent action flicks designed to show off the superior sound and look of the formats (like Van Helsing, Batman Begins and Mission: Impossible III,) there are some more offbeat inclusions -- for example, Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack and The Adventures of Robin Hood, originally released in 1938.
As HD DVD discs are currently region free, it's possible for Australian high-def heads to buy their content from foreign sites like Amazon.com -- for now.
What extra features do high-def DVDs offer? Will there be more extras than standard DVDs?
The amount of bonus features varies by title, but given the high disc capacity of both high-def formats, there is scope for Hollywood to cram in a bunch of interactive extras.
The official HD DVD Web site provides the example of The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift. This title has a plethora of interactive features, including the ability to edit clips using footage from the film and deleted scenes. You can also view a GPS map of where the car chases happen and design your own car, then see it in a scene from the movie. Whether you'll be able to sit through the film is another matter.
Just give it to me straight: do movies really look as good as the hype says?
The CNET.com.au team recently bunkered down to watch several hours of demo discs and commercial titles on a Samsung Blu-ray player. High-def DVD is undoubtedly impressive. There was an almost 3D effect with a lot of the footage; there was impressive detail in the shadows, and lighting effects were a lot more pronounced. Human faces have a level of detail approaching reality, much to the chagrin of aging Hollywood actors.
During our footage watching sessions, what most impressed us were images that were well lit and contained a lot of detail. Clips from the animated film Chicken Little, for example, exhibited a very impressive level of sharpness when it came to feathers and fur. When we played the DVD version and the Blu-ray version side by side, the difference took us by surprise.
For titles like S.W.A.T., however, the difference was much more subtle, mainly due to the fact that much of the action takes place in near darkness. The main drawcard for flicks like these is the enhanced sound -- if you have a solid home theatre set-up, you will really notice the difference.
For the complete lowdown on Blu-ray and HD DVD, take a look at our guide to high-definition DVD formats.