Pass the Hat

Will the prices of HD DVDs and BDs—the discs themselves, never mind the players)—keep the brakes on sales of the new format? If current trends continue, those of us with big DVD collections had better start saving up if we want to eventually replace them with HD DVDs and BDs (Blu-ray discs).

Granted, you can get good discounts. The first Warner HD DVD titles list mainly at $29.95; the Universals are $34.95. Amazon has them for considerably less. But the spread between Amazon's DVD prices and price of the same movie on HD DVD are all over the map, depending on how old or how big a hit the original was, and whether or not there has been a recent DVD special edition of some sort. Check out these Amazon prices (the DVD price is in parenthesis and is for the most recent, premium version where more than one version exists):

Universal Serenity $29.96 ($19.96) Apollo 13 $24.49 ($17.99) Assault on Precinct 13 $24.49 ($17.99) Doom $24.49 ($20.99)

(The Serenity price looks inconsistent, but that's the price listed. This is the only one of these HD DVD titles that is available for less at Best Buy—about $28.)

Warner The Phantom of the Opera $19.86 ($13.46) Goodfellas $19.99 ($18.99) Swordfish $19.99 ($7.47) The Last Samurai $19.99 ($9.99)

The first day-and-date Warner release (on both HD DVD and standard DVD) will be Rumor has It May 9—next Tuesday), will list for $39.95, ($28 on Amazon). This will be, rumor has it (couldn't resist that one), a hybrid disc, with both standard definition and high definition transfers. But Amazon also has two standard DVD releases of this film listed (widescreen and pan and scam). Why separate standard releases, if a DVD player compatible version of the film is also on the hybrid release? Because the standard release will sell for only $17 (on Amazon), that's why.

So the $64M question remains, is the hybrid release priced high because it's a hybrid, or is it priced high because Warner intends that to be the price for all their HD DVDs of new titles, hybrid or not?

I hope the latter is not the case. The price structure for the existing HD DVD titles is already a bit worrying, averaging over $7 for the eight listed above, even at good discounts.

The enthusiast will certainly pay a premium for premier titles, even older ones (though I'm not at all certain about releases like Swordfish, Doom, and Rumor Has it). But the market reality of low prices for older DVD titles is real, and will certainly influence the potential for a wider HD DVD (and Blu-ray) market. A recent browse through the $9.95 rack at Best Buy turned up the following DVD titles: October Sky, Star Trek: First Contact, Moulin Rouge, The Sandlot, My Cousing Vinny, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral, True Lies , The Mask, The Matrix, Donnie Darko, The Bourne Identity, and High Fidelity. There's not a dud in that bunch. Many of us could only wish that a list like this were part of the first batch of high def releases (but no such luck).

The studios need to release both new and older films if the new formats are to turn a profit, and if they don't prove profitable, they won't be successful. But as the above indicates, in the wider market (not just the enthusiastic early adopters) they are up against their own older DVDs selling at fire-sale prices. I'm not suggesting $9.95 for high definition releases of older films. That just won't happen. But the studios might consider sucking it up and pricing current titles competitive with new standard DVD titles, and older titles at slightly less. Might I suggest $25-$30 for new HD DVD and BD releases and $20 for re-releases of older films—the ones currently available at a list price of $15 on DVD?

The studios need to decide soon if they want us to eagerly replace our existing collections, or limit ourselves to a few favorites because the replacement costs are prohibitive?

The early adopter will, at least initially, gladly pay a premium. But if the average consumer isn't willing to buy into these two new formats (or at least one of them) we may well find the titles available very cheap sooner than we realize—in the closeout bin.