- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2007

Here’s a look at a couple of the latest high-tech items devoted to a 24-year-old robot universe.

Transformers, from Paramount Home Entertainment for HD-DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $39.99. Producer Steven Spielberg and director Michael Bay lit up movie theaters this year with an action-packed adaptation of Hasbro’s famed toy line.

The film’s release to the high-definition HD-DVD format provides viewers with a technologically advanced two-disc wonder that Optimus Prime would appreciate.

As the first disc loads, viewers whose player is wired into a broadband connection get access to the truly revolutionary part of the experience. Way less clunky and way more immersive than the “Heroes” or “300” HD-DVD Web-enabled extras equivalents, a rotating carousel of ever-expanding content is presented to download and enhance the movie.

The Transformers Intelligence Mode is the most obvious download/innovation and will remind DVD computer veterans of the type of menu-driven resource seen on New Line Cinema’s Infinifilm editions.

It features an overlay on the movie that places 13 Transformers icons on one side of the screen, a GPS locator at the top and a fact area at the bottom, all of which automatically open into pop-up boxes to act as definitive resources as the movie plot unfolds.

The Transformers box will identify robots as they enter the screen and define their current shape, offer a biography on the bot and even maintain a health meter to reflect its injuries during battles.

Other downloadable widgets coming soon include the ability to save favorite scenes and send them to friends who own HD-DVD players, art themes of major bots that can be applied to personalize menu screens and a resource similar to Intelligence Mode covering the film’s production.

Another simple feature on the first disc should satisfy those without a broadband connection. During the movie, viewers can enact the Transformers’ Heads Up Display to watch a standard fact box at the bottom of the screen with picture-in-picture video popping up during select moments of the action revealing animatics and interviews.

Disc two offers more standard DVD extras with more than two hours of production featurettes. Here, developers offer another trick with an up-close look at all of the main robots under the Transformers Tech Inspector banner, which uses the actual effects models in a presentation as slick and as interactive as an online visual encyclopedia.

Paramount’s fantastic HD-DVD release has taken the next step in transforming home theater into a truly innovative and user-defined experience and might even help tip the battle in the high-definition format wars.

Even if it does not, it certainly justifies considering the purchase of an HD-DVD player this holiday season.

If this release were not enough to put a Transformers fan into a frenzy, Hasbro has served up a dandy high-tech bundle of fun with its new animatronic Ultimate Bumblebee ($99.99).

He arrives out of the box as a 14-inch-tall version of the famed Transformers character. Owners can press buttons to have his eyes light up and his arms and wings move, to launch a missile and to play songs including Devo’s “Whip It” and the Transformers theme song.

Once converted to his Camaro form (a potentially painful process for parents) the Bumblebee has a new set of lights and sounds activated with buttons and movements of the car, such as working headlights and brake lights and screeching tires.

This clearly is Hasbro’s most ambitious Transformer, and it verges more on electronic wonder than engineering conundrum.

However, I long for the day when all I will need to do is press a remote’s button and the Transformer automatically will change shape. I know it goes against the principle of the toy line, but my brain hurts after tinkering with Bumblebee.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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