Universal
Evan Almighty, to be released Oct. 9, will have a list price of $40.
updated 10/3/2007 8:06:34 AM ET 2007-10-03T12:06:34

Just watched "Evan Almighty"? Did its environmental message make you want to buy ecologically sound toilet paper?

Well, now you can get instant gratification — if you watched the movie on an HD DVD player and are willing to give the remote a workout.

The HD DVD of "Evan Almighty" will be the first disc to include an online shopping feature, Universal Studios announced Wednesday.

It's a new front in the struggle between HD DVD and Blu-ray to become the high-definition successor to the DVD. The disc formats offer nearly indistinguishable image quality, so the two camps are battling for holiday shoppers by other means, like cutting prices and piling on features.

The HD DVD camp, which apart from General Electric Co.'s Universal includes Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures, Toshiba Corp. and Microsoft Corp., has been touting the online capabilities of Toshiba's players, which all have jacks for broadband Internet connections. By contrast, not all Blu-ray players have Internet connections.

(MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC Universal joint venture.)

But the HD DVD camp has been slow to take advantage of the Internet. Discs with Internet features, like downloadable trailers and subtitles, only started appearing this summer.

"Evan Almighty," to be released Oct. 9, will contain a simple Web browser that connects to Universal's online store, which will be offering products vaguely related to the movie. Previews of the site featured toilet paper made of recycled materials — 12 rolls for $14 — and a rain barrel for $135 (the movie is a retelling of the story of Noah's Ark). The products offered may change by the time the disc goes on sale.

Remote control
It's uncertain whether consumers will appreciate the shopping opportunity, especially since the transaction has to be completed using the remote. Judging by a demonstration of the technology, entering credit-card information and a home address using the remote and an onscreen keyboard is a slow process. It can be shortened by creating an account in advance on a home computer, then logging into it through the player.

The online shopping feature may not be immediately appealing to consumers, but they are not the only battleground in the HD DVD versus Blu-ray fight. It's also important for each format to woo the studios.

The HD DVD camp scored a major victory in August, when it lured Paramount into its fold. The studio had previously issued movies in both formats. With a few exceptions, HD DVD is now its only high-definition format.

Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. is now the only major studio to release discs in both formats. The Walt Disney Co., News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures release only Blu-ray discs. Sony Corp. is the main maker of Blu-ray players. Its PlayStation 3 game console plays Blu-ray discs, providing a large base of players.

The shopping feature on "Evan Almighty" is not quite what was originally envisioned for HD DVD discs. The original plan was to have little tags pop up while the movie was playing, offering the opportunity to, for instance, add to the shopping cart the sunglasses that an actor was wearing, said Kevin Collins, Microsoft's "director of HD DVD evangelism."

But that looked too much like an endorsement by the actor, something that wasn't included in their contracts, Collins said.

"Our next challenge is to take this to the creative people," said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. "If they get agreements from the actors at the planning stage, it could be a different thing."

"Evan Almighty" will be a combination disc, with the HD DVD on one side and a DVD on the other. It will list for $40.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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