Porn Studios Look to Blu-ray and HD DVD as the Future 
Home Theater News Industry-Trade News
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Thursday, 24 January 2008

The war between HD DVD and Blu-ray took a big swing towards Blu-ray when Warner Brothers Studio announced they would go exclusively Blu-ray just days before the 2008 CES. Pundits suggested “Blu-Friday” was the last nail in the coffin of HD DVD. However, with the war chest of Microsoft and Toshiba behind them and some impressive holiday set-top box sales, most industry executives think this HD format battle isn’t quite over yet. What could be the X factor? Pornography, of course. Adult content has long been credited with propelling VHS over Beta. Can HD porn rekindle the HD format battle or even end it once and for all? Adult content creators are betting on it with increasing bankrolls.

At the AVN porn convention (a part of the Consumer Electronics Show) in 2007, there was one company pushing HD DVD titles that were not yet in production. By January 2008, things were very different. Major adult studios have released high-definition discs in one or both formats. Companies such as Digital Playground have been shooting in native 1080p resolution for four years and have large catalogues of films in the pipeline to come out in one or both formats. I spoke with Joone, the founder and director of Digital Playground, who reports having over 200 titles filmed in 1080p; currently, high-definition discs account for one-fourth of the discs they sell. They plan to release eight titles per month in both formats for the next quarter to see how the market accepts them, then adjust production accordingly. Digital Playground is currently the only adult video studio with a film released in both formats, their best-selling title Pirates, which seems to have won more industry awards than Titanic has Oscars. The Blu-ray version was just released January 11, so it is too early to tell what the sales results will be. The studio is optimistic it will be competitive with some of the best non-HD titles currently on the market.

Some of the other studios who originally backed HD DVD for their adult HD content were notably concerned after the Warners pre-CES announcement. Pink Visual was surprised by the announcement, but they are reportedly in the final QC before going to replication of their first HD DVD film and are planning a trial of at least one film in both formats to see how the market responds. Blu-ray is a little more costly to master and has a mandatory AACS copy protection fee required for each title, so HD DVD has been the choice for some of the smaller studios looking to gently tea-bag the HD disc market before plunging deep into serious releases. The Blu-ray camp also suffered another delay getting into the adult video market, as Sony, a major replicator of Blu-ray titles at this early stage, would not allow replication of adult films on their Blu-ray format in their factories. Family values are one thing, but you would think Sony would have learned a lesson two years ago and quietly embraced this multi-billion dollar home video market. Today, there are other companies beyond Sony replicating Blu-ray discs, with the Warners announcement likely inspiring more factories to amp up for Blu-ray. Non-Sony-based replicators will likely not suffer the moral questions that Sony does when looking at a monster purchase order coming in on the fax machine, yet the fact HD DVD is cheaper, easier and more readily available to the adult world is one of the bright spots for the format, whether they are willing to admit it or not.

The technology and times have significantly changed since the bygone days of the VHS vs. Beta battle. Over 20 years ago in the early 1980s, VHS allowed people to privately watch adult content in their own homes in ways that were easy and discreet. Videos could be ordered in brown wrappers, purchased at local shops or even rented from the back room of your local video store. DVD made that value proposition even better, with better access to materials, supplemental features and more, resulting in retail prices for adult discs that top out at over $40 per DVD title. Hollywood studios paying $20,000,000 per-star, per-film are jealous (at least in private). HD DVD and Blu-ray require a change in equipment for an increase in quality of image. Time will tell if a drastically improved image of a 24-year-old girl, who has done everything under the sun in gleaming and beaming 1080p HD video, will sell. Internet porn booms with free and pay videos that are small and onscreen at well below DVD quality video quality. However, with over 3,000,000 flat panel HDTVs being sold every month, consumers are starved for HD content and, historically, no content sells better than pornography.

One question being asked by people in and out of the adult industry is: is porn as an art form suited for HD? Pornography, for most, is about fantasy. Seeing a porn star’s stretch marks, crow’s feet and pimples in larger-than-life detail on your ultra-resolute HDTV system could possibly ruin the feeling and lessen interest in these new formats. Some studios I spoke to are worried if this is really what the consumer wants. However, that worry may just be veiling their disinterest in investing the extra bucks to advance past the DVD standard for home video. At the same time, if HD discs (or even downloads someday – sooner than you think) are the future, perhaps it is time to start looking at the cinematography of adult movies. If the sales are there, expect the make-up, lighting, set and location budgets to increase. Expect the editing to increase some, but not as much as one might think. Lastly, with the resolution of the format, perhaps there will be a premium on truly beautiful performers to act in adult films. HD, if popular in the adult world, has the ability to change for the better the way pornography is made going forward.

Adult content has the power to heavily influence the HD disc war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, starting right now. Unlike early 2007, many studios are ready or already releasing titles into the market in 2008 to see how they sell. There is no sign that the “Blu-Friday” announcement will cool down the enthusiasm for this technologically important sector for HD discs. The adult studios are ramping up production in one or, in many cases, both of the HD formats and, if nothing else, high-definition media in the adult industry will bring new meaning to firmware updates and load times.

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