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We Again Ask, Will Adult Entertainment Decide The Format War?

Dec 24th, 2007
And have the titles improved technically?

What could be more appropriate for this holiday season than a discussion of Adult Entertainment in high definition? In February of 2007, I asked a rhetorical question about the influence of Adult Entertainment (AE) on the format war, reminded you that AE helped VHS defeat Betamax, noted that $4 billion in AE DVD sales would seem to refute the notion that the Internet is the dominant AE delivery vector, and speculated concerning the appeal of high definition as a more intimate, more titillating means of delivering AE. Having received a couple of screeners, I noted that Digital Playground’s initial efforts were poor, although its subsequent efforts and those by Vivid demonstrated marked improvements. And with each successive improvement in quality came a commensurate improvement in intimacy. Ten months have passed, there is more data, and some trends are beginning to immerge.

Is AE in HD a Commercial Success?

Absolute numbers are difficult to find. Even sales ranks of titles relative to all disc formats (DVD, HD DVD, and BD) are hard to find. But during a Web search, I stumbled on one AE Web vendor that publishes its ten most popular titles each week. And much to my surprise, for the most recent two-week period, six high definition discs were among that site’s top sellers: Digital Playground’s HD DVDs of Pirates, Babysitters, Island Fever 4, Island Fever 3, Jack’s Teen America 3, and Vivid’s Blu-ray Disc release of Debbie Does Dallas... Again.



Considering the size of the vast $4 billion AE disc market, for six of the top selling discs to be in high definition is impressive. It suggests that fans of the genre may have discovered the, uh, visual advantages of advanced media.

Digital Playground must be pleased with HD sales as well. It issued a press release at the end of November that it’s about to offer fifteen additional titles on HD DVD, among them: Jesse Jane in Pink, Jesse's Juice, Contract Star, Teagan: Sexual Freak 2, Teagan's Juice, Intoxicated, Lascivious Liaisons, Mrs. Behavin', Jack's POV 1, Jack's Teen America: Mission 4, and Jack's Teen America: Mission 5.

How About Blu-ray Disc?

Despite BD’s disc sales advantage of 2:1 over HD DVD, and BD’s 3.6:1 hardware installed base advantage over HD DVD, you may have noticed that HD DVD seems to be getting most of the AE action. This may be attributed to several factors. Apparently, finding a BD replicator for an AE release is rather tricky. It was reported that Sony doesn’t object to AE on BD but will not replicate such titles in its facilities. And there was another report that Disney will not give replication business to firms that reproduce AE on BD (perhaps fearing an accidental insertion of an AE disc in a Disney BD keepcase). It’s also a little more expensive to manufacture a BD than an HD DVD. Consequently, as far as I can tell, AE HD DVD releases outnumber AE BD releases by 5:1, so it should come as no surprise that only one BD appears on that best seller list.

But that may be changing. Vivid was first out of the gate with an AE BD; now Digital Playground has announced that it will dip its toes into the blu with Pirates on January 4th. The studio further announced that it will support both formats until there is a clear winner. Digital Playground was motivated to respond with product by emails from BD player owners asking for AE content.

Have The Discs Gotten Any Better?

As I mentioned in my column last June, Vivid’s transfer of Debbie Does Dallas… Again was a huge improvement over Digital Playground’s early work. The first of the Digital Playground HD DVD screeners was soft and contaminated with very intrusive halos. I was hard pressed to differentiate the HD DVD’s video from the 480p transfer on a second disc in the same keepcase. I noted that color and contrast were never serious problems, and that remains true.

Screeners still arrive, and with each succeeding Digital Playground release, halos have become more and more suppressed and the level of detail has improved. Outdoor scenes with very high sunlit light levels are still contaminated with visible but less intrusive halos, but indoor scenes in less intense light have fewer problems. Visual flaws may be a direct result of camera technologies. There seems to be a tradeoff between the visual immediacy (and lower expense) of capturing electronic images in high definition and the less visually intimate (and more expensive) medium of film. I still suspect that Digital Playground is using relatively inexpensive HD cameras that perform single-pass compression to save storage space and extend record time, but the improvements in disc quality also suggest that the cameras’ compression parameters may be adjustable and with more experience, better results are being achieved. Or perhaps better cameras have been acquired.

The visual advantages of AE on HD have become just as dramatic as for mainstream film, and the experience of AE HD is substantially more intimate than its lower resolution counterpart on DVD. What hasn’t changed is the directors’ bad habit of framing for small screen and low resolution. With the 1080 format’s six-times greater resolution and the strong likelihood of viewers watching HD on a larger screen, extreme close-ups are unnecessary and invasive. AE directors should be composing their scenes as if they were shooting a feature film destined for a large venue.

Parting Thoughts

Without absolute sales numbers and only relative sales indicators, it’s extremely difficult to discern whether AE HD is having much of a financial impact on the format war. What seems clear is that fans of the genre are discovering the visual advantages of high definition. And if the studio that has captured 80% of the AE HD market is now committed to releasing its products in both formats, we won’t experience the kind of impact that was felt during the VHS versus Betamax format war. Format agnosticism simply prolongs the war.

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