THE GIZMO: High-def incentives.
WILL PORN TURN THE TIDE? Supporters of the rival high-definition video disc formats had new ammunition at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
The Blu-Ray camp reiterated the overwhelming support of electronics companies and Hollywood studios for the format, with seven out of the eight movie "majors" planning to release about 300 new titles in Blu-Ray this year. And though the format was late to market, disc sales surpassed that of its rival in the second week of December - doubtless bolstered by the arrival of the high-def, Blu-Ray game and movie disc playing PlayStation 3.
While still supported by just three of the big studios (and only one, Universal, exclusively), the HD-DVD camp cited high "attach rates" of discs to its players, suggesting that customers love the system.
Also fueling the fire, HD-DVD will introduce a higher-capacity, three-layer, 51 GB disc to compete with Blu Ray's 50 GB two-layer disc.
And newly announced Chinese and Taiwanese hardware makers could push down the cost of a standalone HD-DVD disc spinner to as little as $299 by year's end.
But ironically, the biggest boost for HD-DVD may have been at the Adult Entertainment Expo, the trade show for the $3.6 billion video pornography industry that opened in Las Vegas the day after CES closed.
There, three producers (Wicked Pictures, Digital Playground and High Def Home Entertainment) announced their first slate of high-def porn titles - all in HD-DVD only.
A fourth studio, Vivid Entertainment, announced just one title that would be available in both high-def formats.
A WARM WELCOME: The porn guys say they've found open arms in the HD-DVD camp - folks who were more than happy to explain the ins and outs of the interactive system and to arrange for duplication at "affordable" prices.
But Blu-Ray format co-developer Sony has thrown road blocks in their path, say the sex merchants, by refusing to duplicate titles in its pressing plant and maybe by discouraging other domestic duplicators from taking on the job.
While denying the latter charge, a Sony spokesperson confirmed the former, reiterating that the company "does not replicate adult titles" and has "never done it." In the past, the company refused to duplicate X-rated videos in either its Betamax tape format (remember that one?) or on UMD discs for the PSP portable game system.
DEBBIE DOES HIGH-DEF: To manufacture its two-shades-of-blue "Debbie Does Dallas . . . Again," Vivid has had to overcome "many challenges," said company co-chairman Steven Hirsch. It's speculated that this Blu-Ray special will be coming from an overseas plant.
Say what you will about pornography's charms - or lack of same. Clearly it has helped drive the early adoption of many technologies, from the printing press to the (Beta-stomping) VHS videocassette, the Internet and the DVD.
Vivid Entertainment was among the first content providers to exploit the select-a-camera-angle capability of the DVD.
READY FOR THAT CLOSEUP? The added appeal of high-def, said one porn director, who goes by the name of Roddy D, is that it "puts you in the room" with the performers. But that could be a drawback, too.
Even after makeup artists have done their thing, some truly glamorous Hollywood celebrities have been known to appear painfully imperfect - in a way, "naked" to the world - in high-def closeups on late-night television.
If Teri Hatcher looks bad under the lens, what does that portend for Jenna Jameson?
SHERWOOD'S FIRST: Higher-quality, multi-channel audio is another lure of both new video disc formats. But to enjoy the best that these discs' "lossless coding" DTS HD Master and Dolby Digital TruHD soundtracks have to offer, you'll need a new audio/video receiver with upgraded sound processing technology.
Bragging rights for "first to market" are likely to go this spring to Sherwood, with its Newcastle R-872 ($999) and R-972 ($1,499) receivers. Both decode the new audio codecs and pass along the HD-disc formats' enhanced, "Deep Color" pictures, when delivered to the receivers' state-of-the-art HDMI 1.3 inputs (four on the lower-priced model, six on the upgraded receiver).
FYI, Sherwood has been around for ages, has scored some notable tech firsts in the past, and (ssshhh!) actually makes a/v receivers for other, higher-profile brands. *
E-mail Jonathan Takiff at takiffj@