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Universal Studios Unveils Online Features for HD DVD Titles

Posted on Thursday, October 4th, 2007 10:53 AM by Scott Jentsch

Universal Studios has taken the wraps off a system for leveraging Internet connections on HD DVD players playing some of their recent releases on the high definition format.

Evan Almighty on HD DVDThe HD DVD release of the TV series "Heroes: Season 1" was the first such title, followed by the popular raunchy comedy "Knocked Up", as well as the upcoming release of "Evan Almighty" on October 9th. Fans are able to download bonus scenes and add new, downloadable experiences, with "Evan Almighty" even offering the ability to shop online right from a browser provided on the disc where you can purchase merchandise related to the movie.

"HD DVD provides a consistent platform that allows us to go beyond DVD to deliver the best possible next generation HD experiences and begins to introduce consumers to the infinite potential of web-enabled content," said Craig Kornblau, President of Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Digital Platforms. "With our web-enabled features, we wanted to deliver capabilities that compliment the HD movie watching experience while also offering a destination online that gives users the opportunity to dive deeper into their favorite movies and TV shows. We’ve just begun to explore HD DVD's potential and this infrastructure lays the foundation for us to easily evolve with consumer preferences."

These types of online features are just beginning to be explored by movie studios, and I'm sure that we're just seeing the surface being scratched as to what is possible. The HD DVD release of "300" offered the ability to purchase 300-themed ringtones for your cell phone, and "Blood Diamond" offered downloadable facts about the countries involved in the conflict diamond trade.

Industry insiders have alluded to the ability to download additional soundtrack languages, subtitles, and even alternate versions of the movie using the HD DVD player's ability to connect to the Internet without the use of a personal computer.

What remains to be seen, however, is how the public will respond to such features? Are these features in search of an audience, or will the audience drive the studios to more innovations? So far, the response to the Heroes release has been positive. Universal reported in its press release (included below) that "nearly 40 percent of purchasers had registered an account in order to access unique connected features like the Heroes Ability Test and the Download Center." This bodes well, as the normally accepted viewership rate of extras on a home video is around 20% (only 1 in 5 people look at the extras included on a DVD).

These capabilities are one of the reasons that I've been harping on the fact that many Blu-ray players currently for sale do not offer the ability to connect to the Internet, which makes features like these impossible. It also makes updating your player much harder to do, which is important with a new technology, as the manufacturers release firmware updates to enhance performance, add features, and fix problems. Every HD DVD player made has the ability to connect to the Internet, and if you are looking to buy a Blu-ray player, I highly recommend buying one that has that ability as well (plus a bunch of other features that aren't on every Blu-ray player).

Compare this to the day when your DVD player was what it was when you bought it, good or bad. I have a Pioneer DVD player that has problems with its multi-channel audio outputs, but the only fix is to send it to a repair center for a firmware update. Needless to say, I've never bothered because of the hassle. Compare this to my HD DVD player which has seen three firmware updates in the year that I've had it, and in that time, new features have been enabled, and problems found with certain discs have been addressed. I like the new reality much better than the old!

Regardless of whether you plan on buying a $135 rain barrel while watching "Evan Almighty," I think that these new online features are exciting. Not only because of what it's currently doing, but what it heralds for the future. Studios are watching the reactions to these new features closely, so it's also a great time to be an enthusiast, as we have the ability to shape the future! Exciting times indeed!

Below is the full press release from Universal about their online platform for extending the movie experience with HD DVD technology.

Press Release

Universal Studios Home Entertainment Unveils Platform to Take HD DVD Web-Enabled Experiences to the Next Level

The Guaranteed Internet Connection in Every HD DVD Player Allows Movie-Specific Access to Content, Community Building and Online Purchases

October 03, 2007 03:01 AM Eastern Daylight Time

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, Universal Studios Home Entertainment raised the bar on HD DVD’s unique web-enabled experiences by unveiling an Internet infrastructure that allows it to take advantage of the guaranteed Internet connection in every HD DVD player and deliver compelling, title specific features. Heroes: Season 1 on HD DVD was the first title to take advantage of web-enabled capabilities, but with the forthcoming availability of Evan Almighty on HD DVD, Universal is setting the stage for new home entertainment experiences with web-enabled features such as the Download Center, U-Shop, and much more. Taking advantage of the infinite possibilities of web-enabled experiences, Universal is utilizing HD DVD to explore the promise of digitally distributed scenarios and infusing movie content with e-commerce and social media capabilities.

“HD DVD provides a consistent platform that allows us to go beyond DVD to deliver the best possible next generation HD experiences and begins to introduce consumers to the infinite potential of web-enabled content,” said Craig Kornblau, President of Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Digital Platforms. “With our web-enabled features, we wanted to deliver capabilities that compliment the HD movie watching experience while also offering a destination online that gives users the opportunity to dive deeper into their favorite movies and TV shows. We’ve just begun to explore HD DVD’s potential and this infrastructure lays the foundation for us to easily evolve with consumer preferences.”

In addition to title-centric experiences available through any HD DVD player, a new website, www.UniversalHiDef.com , will serve as an online destination for PC-based interaction, enabling cross platform consumer engagement with additional content, fan communities and much more. The site also establishes a cross-platform integration point to take advantage of the growing web properties already in place across NBC Universal.

This new infrastructure augments all the great features available through recent HD DVD releases, such as Heroes: Season 1, Knocked Up and the forthcoming Evan Almighty. Fans can download bonus scenes and make an online profile, or even add new, downloadable experiences long after a title leaves the store shelf. The interface allows consumers to register and create a personalized experience, while taking the first step toward participating in a fan community around their favorite movies or TV shows. Once registered, the account will be recognized by a consumer’s player whenever a new web-enabled Universal disc is inserted. It can remember user preferences and multiple accounts with different passwords all registered on the same player.

The popularity and demand for such capabilities is evident with the recent release of Heroes Season 1 on HD DVD. Within the first two weeks following the release of the popular television series’ seven-disc HD DVD set, nearly 40 percent of purchasers had registered an account in order to access unique connected features like the Heroes Ability Test and the Download Center.

One of most exciting new additions is the new U-Shop feature, an online store launching with Evan Almighty on HD DVD. By accessing U-Shop during the movie watching experience, consumers will be exposed to online purchase options related to the movie – from the latest featured fashions to movie-themed collectables.

The experience from your living room is also easy to use, designed with tailored, remote control friendly navigation tools to access information. An “above the fold” picture navigation offers pull-down menus and allows the consumer to easily descend into the subsequent pages.

An overview of some of the features coming to future Universal HD DVD titles and on UniversalHiDef.com includes:

U-Shop

The first functionality of U-Shop will be enabled with HD DVD release of Evan Almighty. With Universal U-Shop, viewers have the opportunity to shop for items from the movie right from their living room. Consumers can access the entire store from their HD DVD player and start purchasing exclusive items from titles that offer this feature.

Features/Download Center

Users will be able to scroll over numerous stills of the many interactive experiences that are already released on HD DVD. Web-enabled features allow consumers the opportunity to download exclusive trailers, content and games right to their HD DVD player, allowing one-click access to the Download Center. Consumers can also sign up for newsletters, sweepstakes and partner offers.

Best Buddies/My Scenes

Users will learn how create a Best Buddies list and collect and send their favorite movie clips to friends. Here, users will register their best buddies, who will be uploaded to the server and then accessible from their HD DVD player. Users can manage their buddy list using the HD DVD playback experience or via the PC to build a connected community of friends and movie fans.

Customer Support

The support section features instructions in the “screen grabs” format for easy step-by-step instructions. A list of error codes will also be provided to help identify any issues, along with links to customer support sites for Xbox and Toshiba are also available.

In addition to the current web-enabled titles of Heroes: Season 1, Knocked Up and soon Evan Almighty, experiences on Universal HD DVD titles and UniversalHiDef.com will continue to grow and evolve with the fan community, offering synched live events, user-generated content, user commentaries, 360 experiences, and more. The possibilities are endless with HD DVD’s guaranteed web capabilities on every player regardless of make, model or price.

About HD DVD

HD DVD is the next generation, post-DVD standard for high capacity, high definition optical discs, approved by the DVD Forum, which develops and defines DVD formats. Its more than 220 strong membership brings together leaders in movies and entertainment, computing, consumer electronics and software. HD DVD is fast becoming the primary visual medium for the age of high-definition TV. The North American HD DVD Promotional Group, Inc. is an organization established to promote the HD DVD format and educate consumers in North America. For more information and a complete listing of HD DVD launch titles please visit http://www.TheLookAndSoundOfPerfect.com.

About Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal Studios Home Entertainment is a unit of Universal Pictures, a division of Universal Studios (www.universalstudios.com). Universal Studios is a part of NBC Universal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80%-owned by General Electric, with 20% owned by Vivendi.

Source: Universal Studios



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