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"300" shown in before and after footage  (Source: Warner Bros.)
HD DVD outshines Blu-ray Disc with a better version of "300"

This week’s home video movie releases will bring with it a disc that will clearly outline the differences in feature sets of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. “300,” released on Tuesday, hits the market on high-definition with unequal releases.

The rights to “300” belong to Warner Home Video – a studio that backs both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc – but the studio has graced the HD DVD version with several exclusive features that currently can be found nowhere else.

Found only on the HD DVD version is the "Bluescreen Picture-in-Picture Version" of the film. As “300” was shot almost completely in a bluescreen-laden warehouse in Canada, the raw footage differs greatly from the movie’s final look. Viewers are able to directly compare the before and after shots through a picture-in-picture window that can be dynamically enabled or disabled. Running alongside the pre-processed footage is an exclusive commentary track by director Zack Snyder recorded specifically for the special feature.

The bluescreen supplement is not found on the Blu-ray Disc version of the film, but Warner Home Video’s decision to include it only the HD DVD version is unlikely due to any sort of format favoritism. Current mandatory Blu-ray Disc player specifications do not include the feature set to allow for picture-in-picture video.

The Blu-ray Disc Association has mandated that all players of the format released after October 31, 2007 must support BD Java, a programming language for Blu-ray Disc media used mainly to deliver picture-in-picture for in-movie commentary and special features.

The HD DVD equivalent of this enabling feature, called HDi, is already standard on all HD DVD players. Rather than being based on Java, however, HDi is built on Microsoft’s XML standards.

Another feature that points out the feature differences between the two high-definition player specifications is HD DVD’s requirement of being Internet-connectivity ready. Recent firmware updates for HD DVD players, which are obtainable via the web, have enabled “Web Content” features for specific movie titles.

“300” on HD DVD takes advantage of online content by allowing the viewer to browse and purchase movie-related items, such as ringtones and wallpapers, for use on mobile phones – another feature that is exclusive to the movie’s release on the format.

The CGI-filled film isn’t Warner Home Video’s first unequal release on high-definition. The studio released “Blood Diamond” first on Blu-ray Disc, and then weeks later released the HD DVD version with picture-in-picture commentary. The studio is also holding back certain titles from a Blu-ray Disc release – that are already available on HD DVD – at least until BD-Java becomes mandatory. Such titles include “Batman Begins,” “V for Vendetta” and the “Matrix Trilogy.”

Although it may appear that the current Blu-ray Disc version of “300” is completely inferior to the HD DVD version, it does feature one additional audio option. The Blu-ray Disc version of the film includes an additional uncompressed audio track that is encoded in Linear PCM 5.1. The extra audio track is likely exclusive to Blu-ray disc due to the format’s extra 20GB of storage space. The video encodes on both high-definition versions, presented in VC-1, are identical.

“The HD DVD of 300 is clearly the superior version, boasting some exclusive special features such as a picture-in-picture bluescreen version of the film, web-enabled extras and more,” said optical storage analyst Wesley Novack. “The only exclusive feature found on the Blu-ray Disc version of the release is the uncompressed PCM audio track, which is nearly identical to the TrueHD audio found on the HD DVD release.”

For Blu-ray Disc player owners who are missing the bluescreen picture-in-picture feature, there may be hope of a second release of “300” following the implementation of BD Java. According to Home Media Magazine, Deborah Snyder, executive producer and wife of director Zack Snyder of the film, at a Comic-Con International panel said that the picture-in-picture feature wasn’t yet ready for Blu-ray Disc, and added, “I think there’s going to be another Blu-ray special edition later on.”

Another report from the panel recorded Deborah Snyder as saying that a later edition of the movie will also include storyboards and production artwork in addition to the bluescreen footage. The Digital Bits recalled that the producer’s comments sent several Warner representatives in a state of nervousness and shock. Warner Home Video did not comment on whether or not there would be another release of “300” on Blu-ray Disc with additional features.

For owners of players of both high-definition formats, the choice between which to buy today may come down to more than just the special feature bullet-points. Interestingly enough, the Blu-ray Disc version of “300” retails for several dollars less than the HD DVD version, but it’s not because of its shorter feature list.

As Novack explained, “These exclusive extra features are not the catalyst that caused the slightly higher MSRP on the HD DVD compared to the Blu-ray version. In reality, the higher price is due to the combo disc format, which includes a standard DVD version on the flip-side of the disc. And with a rumor that Warner might be releasing another version of ‘300’ in the future, with interactive features included next time, the HD DVD version looks like the version to jump on at this point in time.”





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