Industry experts analyzing the format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD have generally concluded that the two hi-def DVD formats are likely to continue to coexist for the next few years as the market gradually shifts toward hi-def DVDs.  Earlier this year it appeared as if Blu-ray was going to score a quick victory thanks in part to the inclusion of a player in Sony's PlayStation 3 game console, but then HD DVD decided to allow the Chinese to make low priced players and suddenly the prospect of eventual parity in terms of the number of players seemed very attainable (though there were a few specials on HD DVD players this year, by the 2008 holiday season $100 HD DVD players should be commonplace). 


With the Hollywood studios split fairly evenly between those committed to one format or the other (some, like Warner Bros., produce DVDs in both hi-def formats), the software side of the battle remains as much of a draw as the hardware conflict.  So it appears that retailers will have deal with an excess of SKUs, since it also appears that the original DVD format is not going away anytime soon.  It also appears that, while the hi-def formats are not going to score the same sort of sweeping revolutionary victory over the regular DVD format that DVDs achieved over VHS tapes, neither are the hi-def formats going to turn into the niche market items like laserdiscs were -- and thus there appears to be little room for specialized hi-def DVD retailers, especially since by the end of this year some 36% of American households will have an HDTV set, most of them of the size where the visual virtues of the hi-def DVD formats are readily apparent.


Even though mass market retailers are carrying the hi-def formats (though Target has decided to just carry Blu-ray), there should remain some opportunities for independent retailers in the world of hi-def DVDs, particularly among items with a strong cult following.  A good case in point is Paramount's HD-DVD edition of the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series (MSRP $194.99).  The set, which contains the first season's 29 episodes in the order in which they were broadcast, is pricy, but with enhanced special effects (see 'Star Trek: TOS Makover') and unparalleled visual quality, this is the version that the devoted fans of this series will want to have.  With a price point this high, retailers with a good DVD source can discount the item and clear a nice chunk of change and what makes this set especially attractive is the fact that it contains both regular DVD and HD DVD versions of the episodes, so it should appeal to those who have not yet purchased an HD DVD player and are waiting for the price drop in HD DVD hardware, which is sure to happen in 2008.


The enhanced special effects, especially the matte paintings, look terrific, but the main delight is the overall effect of the new high definition transfer, which is simply stunning and yields plenty of details that were virtually invisible in previous versions.  The newly recorded score sounds great and the addition of some home movies shot by extra Billy Blackburn pumps up the extras to a degree, but the real delight with this set is watching a great episode like 'City on the Edge of Forever' (written by Harlan Ellison) on as big an HDTV set as you can find and seeing the colors popping right off the screen and the reveling in the crispness of the detail and the sharpness of the HD image.


Another recently released HD DVD title with real cult potential is Anchorman ($29.99), the hilarious send-up of 1970s TV news featuring today's hottest screen comedian Will Farrell giving one of his very best performances as anchorman Ron Burgundy.  Burgandy's running feud with the sexy and smart newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) exposes his rampant sexism and raging narcissism to great comic effect, but this modern comic classic from 2004 should also be appreciated for its great supporting cast, which includes Fred Willard, as the evening news producer, Steve Carrell as a mentally-challenged weatherman, David Koechner as the inevitable macho sportscaster, and Paul Rudd as a smarmy roving reporter.


Once again the high definition transfer is superb, producing immaculate visuals that effortlessly simulate the 35mm theatrical experience--and the audio quality is also stellar -- they work together and make it easy to immerse yourself in this wacky world and let the comedy just bowl you right over.


The HD DVD version also includes more than 60 minutes of extras, many of which, such as Ron Burgandy's auditions and interviews, are as funny as anything in the movie.