Blu-ray bowing on May 23

Sony announces next-gen video format will launch in US in just over three months with lineup of familiar titles; first player to retail for $999.

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Two weeks ago, Variety reported that many studios were cutting back on production of Universal Media Disc (UMD) home-video releases. According to the article, studios were disappointed with sales of films released on the format, which was created for Sony's PSP handheld. However, most PSP owners will say that they are themselves disappointed with the small selection of UMD movies, much of which is made up of such less-than-stellar offerings as Stealth and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

Today, Sony announced that is launching another all-new video format used by one of its game platforms with an even more limited selection of movies. On May 23, the electronics giant will debut its Blu-ray Disc (BD) format, which will be used by the PlayStation 3, in North America with eight films of varying vintage, popularity, and acclaim: 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, A Knight's Tale, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, XXX, and the 1978 concert film The Last Waltz. They will be followed by a second wave of releases on June 13: Kung Fu Hustle, Legends of the Fall, RoboCop, Stealth, Species, SWAT, Terminator, and Underworld: Evolution.

Though DVD-specialty sites such as the Digital Bits predict that the aforementioned launch BD movies will go for about $24.99 each, no pricing information was given for the initial octet, which will be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. However, the other studio shipping BD films on May 23, Lionsgate, was more forthcoming. It said that two of its initial offerings, Lord of War and the Oscar-nominated Crash will retail for $39.99, while the other three--The Punisher, Saw, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day--will go for $29.99 each. The Canada-based studio will release a second wave that will include Reservoir Dogs, Total Recall, Stargate, and the Frank Herbert's Dune miniseries for $29.99 each, and the Rob Zombie-directed schlock-horror opus The Devil's Rejects for $39.99.

Though neither Sony nor Lionsgate made any mention of what extra features their initial BD movie offerings will have, both make much of the Blu-ray Disc's ability to store up to 50GB on one disc, more than five times that of a DVD. For a full rundown on the format, which will see competition in the form of the Microsoft and Time Warner-backed HD-DVD platform later in the year, check out Sony's official Blu-ray Web site. Microsoft is also planning to release a HD-DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 later this year.

But while the variety of BD films will be limited, consumers will have even less choice when it comes to Blu-ray Disc players. Sony's announcement said that its BDs' debut will "coincide with the launch...of the first commercially available BD player from Samsung Electronics." That would be the BD-P1000, which will play HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) video at resolutions of both 720p and 1080i (720 lines progressive scanning and 1,080 lines interlaced scanning)--and will retail for around $999.

The PS3, which will come with an internal BD-ROM drive, is expected to retail for between $399 and $799. However, most analysts now expect the console won't launch in the US until Q4 2006, even though Sony has not officially changed the "spring 2006" release window it announced at E3 2005. However, Sony says the BD-P1000's release "will be followed shortly by BD players from Pioneer and Sony along with a BD-compatible VAIO PC from Sony."

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