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
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
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
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.”