HD Disks Pack Low-Achieving Extras

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Great pictures and sound apparently aren't enough to sell movies in this day of Internet hyper-interactivity: Folks hawking new high-definition disks are promising fancy features beyond the director interviews and film outtakes that come with standard DVDs.

Universal Studios is early with its version, which it calls U-Control. I tried it along with an HD DVD player, one of two formats warring for domination of high-def disks. So far, I'd tell Universal that "U-Disappoint."

First, no longer should we just lean back and enjoy a flick. Instead, keep the remote handy as you scramble to suck up all kinds of added material: still pics of sets, behind-the-scenes videos, maps tracking the action, and cast bios. Second, most of the extras added little, and some were downright goofy. Cast bios seemed worth the effort, but the feature was available only when a character first appeared. No luck if it's a bit later that you wonder if the love interest (Naomie Harris) in the movie Miami Vice was also in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (she was).

Unlike conventional DVDs, these add-ons are available as you watch a movie, with icons popping up to indicate they're there. Click the icon to open a picture-in-picture window while the action continues. Also, HD DVDs allow you to make viewing adjustments–turning on subtitles, for example–while the disk is playing, without having to pause the action as you did with yesterday's DVDs.

So the new tech can be useful; it's more a question of how studios take advantage of it. So far, it's more promising than satisfying.