High-def war won by Blu-ray's big gun

Comic figures from the television show "The Simpsons" are on display Monday at the Blu-Ray booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — The International Consumer Electronics Show is turning out to be a celebration party for Blu-ray, the high-definition format that Sony Corp. backed, and a wake for a rival movie disc technology pushed by Toshiba Corp.

Just two months ago, Sony CEO Howard Stringer said the fight between Blu-ray and Toshiba's HD DVD was at a "stalemate" and expressed a wish to travel back in time to avert it.

The impasse was broken Friday by Warner Bros. Entertainment, the last major studio to put out movies in both formats. It announced it was ditching HD DVD, and from May on, would only publish on Blu-ray and traditional DVD.

The decision puts a strong majority of the major studios, five versus two, in the Blu-ray camp.

Asked Monday at the show if the Warner announcement decides the format war, Stringer said: "I never put up banners that say 'Mission Accomplished.' " But his cheerful delivery belied his words.

By contrast, the main media event scheduled for the show by the North American HD DVD Promotional Group, which includes Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., was canceled because of Warner's defection.

"We are currently discussing the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD DVD partner companies and evaluating next steps," the group said in a statement.

The shift in the format struggle isn't a reason to run out and buy Blu-ray players, however: Today's players can't take advantage of the features planned for future Blu-ray discs.

On Monday, Panasonic parent Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. demonstrated prototypes that can handle the interactive features coming to Blu-ray.

This spring, Panasonic plans to introduce a player for the so-called BD-Live standard. It will be able to connect to the Internet to download movie trailers, and will be able to play simple games.

At the show's Blu-ray booth, a prototype Panasonic player was showing an "Alien vs. Predator" movie in which the viewer can get involved by bringing up an on-screen gun and shoot at monsters to score points.

In November, Panasonic launched the first player to include picture-in-picture capability, which allows viewers to watch the director or actor providing commentary in a small window while the movie plays full-screen. Sony's PlayStation 3 game console — which can play Blu-ray discs — gained the same capability in December via a software update.

HD DVD players have had most of these capabilities. Starting with the first ones sold, in 2006, Toshiba's players have had picture-in-picture capabilities and have been able to connect to the Internet to download trailers. The HD DVD of "Evan Almighty" even allows the viewer to go to an online store to buy related merchandise.

Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, acknowledged in an interview that the HD DVD format had some advantages.

"The interactivity is more advanced on the HD DVD side, but I'm confident that we're going to get there" with Blu-ray, Tsujihara said. "There were cost advantages on the HD DVD side," however, "even with that price advantage, you weren't seeing the consumer move toward that format."