Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vudu to Offer HD Movies Online

In a major shift in movie distribution, a high-definition version of the hit ''The Bourne Ultimatum'' will be released through Vudu Inc.'s online service Tuesday -- the same day the DVD comes out.

It is the first of many HD movies Vudu plans to deliver online at the same time DVDs become available.

Owners of Vudu's set-top box, which costs $399, use a high-speed Internet connection to watch the movies they rent and to download the ones they buy.

Movies usually are released in staggered windows in different formats -- DVD, online through Xbox Live and other companies, or on demand on cable.

But Hollywood studios are experimenting more with digital distribution, and a few have agreed to work with Vudu to sell HD movies, though the selection remains limited.

Some in the industry worry that competition between the two high-definition formats -- Blu-ray and HD DVD -- is holding back production in high definition as consumers debate which format to use. For consumers who download movies with Vudu, that choice is not an issue, however.

Universal Pictures, the studio behind the ''Bourne'' movies, is the first to offer a downloadable HD version of a movie the same day as the DVD is released.

In addition to working with Universal, Vudu has signed deals to distribute HD content from Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. Universal is owned by NBC Universal, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal, while Paramount is a division of Viacom Inc. Lionsgate is independent.

The Vudu box, which first went on sale in October, offers a catalog of about 5,000 standard-definition films, which can be rented for 99 cents to $4.99. Some films, including the HD editions of the ''Bourne'' films, can only be purchased, meaning they can be stored permanently on the set-top.

''The Bourne Identity,'' ''The Bourne Supremacy,'' and ''The Bourne Ultimatum'' will sell for $24.99 each, though Vudu customers can get the two older movies for free during the holiday season.

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