A couple of interesting high definition title announcements have been made in the last few days, not because of the films themselves, but because of how they play into this whole format war. As you probably know, the rights to many films are owned by different studios depending on where you live in the world - so, for example, Paramount owns Titanic in the US, but 20th Century Fox has the rights in Europe. This, as you can probably imagine, is pretty significant as far as the HD format war is concerned, because it means that a title that might be Blu-ray or HD DVD exclusive in one region may be available in the other format (or both formats) in another, as is the case with Gangs of New York, which is owned by the Blu-ray exclusive Disney in the US, and the Blu-ray exclusive EIV in the UK, but the format-neutral Manga Films has it in Spain (and is planning to release it this month).
Recently, a Sony Pictures title, The Holiday, was announced for release on April 2nd in Europe on HD DVD by Universal (just under a month after its Blu-ray release in the US). Meanwhile, Basic Instinct, already available on HD DVD from Studio Canal in Europe, has just been announced by Lions Gate in the US for release on Blu-ray on May 29th.
It’s a confusing situation, but an exciting one all the same. It means that, in several cases, it’s wrong to call a title “exclusive”, because just because it is released on one format only in, say, North America, doesn’t mean that it won’t be released on the other elsewhere. This is made doubly fun by the lack of region coding on HD DVD releases. Blu-ray releases are more problematic, given that the format is split into three regions - although, of course, region coding is optional, and the likes of Warner and Paramount have yet to use it at all, while Sony only uses it on catalogue releases. (Fox, as usual, is region coding everything, and overcharging for the privilege of owning these booby-trapped discs.) Of course, where this really becomes interesting is when you factor in variables like image quality and extras. The Studio Canal HD DVD of Total Recall, for example, is widely regarded to feature a better transfer than its Blu-ray counterpart from Lions Gate - although, like a number of Studio Canal titles, it suffers from an audio glitch, whereby the sound is pitched a semitone too high (note that this is not PAL speed-up, which many people are mistaking it for). Additionally, Basic Instinct is presented on HD DVD without any extras: the rights to the various bonus materials from the standard definition release are presumably owned by Lions Gate, so it will be interesting to see whether any of them make it on to the upcoming Blu-ray release. I’ll also be interested to hear how the transfers compare: Basic Instinct on HD DVD looks rather poor, with a lot of DVNR artefacts and some distracting softness (of course, the Blu-ray release could end up looking even worse, if American Psycho is any indication of Lions Gate’s treatment of catalogue titles).
It’s an intriguing situation, to say the least. I intend to pick up HD DVD copies of the “Blu-ray exclusive” Gangs of New York and Underworld: Evolution from Spain, plus any other titles which catch my eye. The moral of the story is that, just because your favourite film is not available on your format of choice in one country, doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get it elsewhere. (Of course, there are plenty of cases where the same studio owns the rights to a title throughout the world, as is the case with Disney’s animated features, and Sony’s Spider-man, and Universal’s King Kong, so don’t get your hopes up too high.)