- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2007

The war between competing high-definition formats continues with HD-DVD still losing ground to its archrival, Blu-ray, in both sales and retailer outlets, but the conflict is still a long way from over.

The major backers of HD-DVD, Toshiba (one of the developers) and Microsoft, have given it unwavering support and recently have had one of their supporting studios deliver a fantastic example of the HD-DVD format’s potential.

300, from Warner Home Video, for HD-DVD enabled computers and entertainment centers, rated R, $39.99.

Sequential-art master Frank Miller’s adaptation of the famed battle of Thermopylae became a blockbuster film this year, and its HD-DVD release shows the type of interactive innovation required to win the format wars.

Viewers interested in the “300” high-definition epic will first need a player, and Toshiba is more than willing to help. The company offers three models (more to come in a few months) — HD-A2 ($250 to $299), XA2 ($589 to $799), HD-A20 ($329 to $399) — each with an HDMI port (for the full digital resolution) and Ethernet port (required for content access via a broadband connection) and the ability to play standard DVDs.

Of the three, the HD-A20 is the best buy as the HD-A2 only outputs to 1080i resolution (1080 progressive is currently true high-definition) and the XA2 is just too expensive for its minor upgrades.

Once owners configure the Internet connection on a player and hook up the HDMI cable (not included), the film is ready to explode from the screen.

After watching the dramatic 116-minute exercise in excessive violence and computer-enhanced designs, viewers will want to watch a couple of hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes (most in HD). One nice extra, occasionally used in DVD realms, is the picture-in-picture commentary track. Director Zack Snyder narrates the entire movie shown sans the special effects that gives a great insider’s look into the special-effects process.

More fun is the on-screen strategy challenge, Vengeance and Valor. A player commands Spartan troops against the mighty Persian army in a board-game-type presentation set upon a 3-D relief map. Controlled via the remote, the action has a commander select and divvy up a battalion of 300 troops that he moves into hot spots on the map to engage the enemy or defend a position.

The difficult-to-master challenge is a far cry from the rudimentary set-top games of the past, and although no troop battle animation is shown, film snippets highlight the outcome, and plenty of audio, sound effects and text messages encourage the commander.

Another less impressive bonus with enormous potential is the “pick your favorite scenes” editor, which enables the viewer to cut together a compilation of his favorite moments from the film and post them in cyberspace for others to appreciate.

A clunky interface clips the scenes into segments being watched and requires the editor to use the remote with an on-screen keyboard to name a scene and create a log-in to post and grade others’ content. The potential for the feature is enormous once editors get more control of the film parts and can add text or mix sound with the pieces.

Viewers also can use their broadband Internet connection to access a mobile phone area on the disc, where they can choose screen shots and listen to about a dozen ring tones available for purchase.

Clearly, this variety of bonus content for “300” is just the beginning, and both HD-DVD and Blu-ray will need to embellish this type of multimedia interactivity to give consumers a real reason to invest in yet another digital video format.

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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