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HD DVD Formats Coming to a Collision Course Near You

It could be déjà vu (or better yet, Betamax vs. VHS again), but two competing formats for HD-quality DVDs are about to start confusing American consumers in earnest. One format, known simply as "HD-DVD," is what such companies like Toshiba and Sanyo are backing, with DVD-player product rolling out in time for the next holiday season in late 2005. Studios backing HD-DVD, so far, include Warner Bros., Universal and Paramount. The second (and incompatible) format is Sony's Blu-ray, which is also tentatively scheduled for a 2005 holiday season (or more likely early 2006) introduction. Blu-ray has the backing of two studios so far: Disney and Sony Pictures.

So a year from now it's quite possible that consumers will be confronted by two HD disc formats that won't talk to each other--each requiring its own unique high-definition DVD players and discs. The only common strand for both formats will be the need for HD-capable monitors/receivers to realize high-definition's full benefits. But one thing that will not be a problem in the early stages of the dual rollouts is missing any classic movie titles. Because very little market penetration will be realized for at least a few years (by either or both formats), classics like "The Godfather," the Lord of the Ring Trilogy, "Gone with the Wind" or good old "Casablanca" in black and white, will not be among the early high-def DVD titles.

Instead, early HD-enhanced DVDs in both formats will cater mostly to one key demographic: young males. Early titles, according to The Wall Street Journal, likely will include a few movies that more or less bombed in theaters, including "Catwoman," "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," and one of the biggest bombs in memory: "Waterworld."