Porn industry poised for new HD video format

It is often said that the adult industry is at the forefront of new technologies. It was credited with driving initial consumer acceptance of VHS and DVD and was a pioneer in online video streaming. But in the battle over disc formats for high-definition video its voice has yet to be heard. At the 2005 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas last week, movie makers said the move to high-definition is on, but this time the adult industry is content to let Hollywood lead the way.

"Already about 40 percent of our titles are shot in HD (high-definition) and we plan to continue making the move," said Bob Christian, of Adam & Eve Productions. The company releases around 50 adult titles per year and first started using HD about 3 years ago.

"We can see it's the way things are going," he said.

Many of the movies are shot on HD equipment at the highest 1080p (1080 lines, progressive scan) resolution and then edited on HD equipment. The resulting DVD releases are at standard definition but the all-HD production process results in a higher quality image, he said.

Wicked Video, another major production house, is also shooting an increasing number of movies on HD but has yet to make any decisions on disc formats.

"We're waiting to see on (HD video disc formats)," said Daniel Metcalf, publicist at the company. The industry is waiting in part because it doesn't have the money to gamble on backing the wrong format, he said.

The competition between the two formats -- Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD -- has to-date been largely a battle of words, but that will change later this year. Companies backing the HD-DVD format announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), also taking place in Las Vegas last week, that they plan to begin selling players and HD movies in the final quarter of this year. Blu-ray Disc players and content are expected sometime in 2006, although no firm commitments have been made.

That leaves adult production companies, along with other movie makers, with few outlets for HD content at present except for satellite or cable television. Several distribute via Playboy Hot HD, which is available as part of the Voom bouquet of HDTV channels for US$20 per month.

An alternative route exists via the Internet, where Web-based broadcasting and streaming companies are not so strictly tied to TV industry standards. They can send video at almost any resolution supported by a computer screen, although increasingly picture quality requires a faster connection. Currently, even broadband does not typically support the speed required for full high-definition.

Consumer demand for HD adult content is yet to be widely tested. While few doubt that HD will arrive sooner or later, early signs are that demand for HD adult movies is not as strong as that for other movie genres.

"There is not a lot of demand (for HD) from customers," said Sean Carney, director of marketing at LFP, which releases movies under the Hustler Video name. Like its competitors, the company is also shooting movies in HD as an investment for the future, but has yet to think about getting the movies to customers via either Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD.

Nina Hartley, a 21-year old veteran of the industry who has been in over 650 movies, said she isn't sure if the shooting style of most adult movies will really combine well with HD, which typically benefits from attention paid to technical details like lighting and camera angles.

"Of all the advances, HD is not adult friendly," she said. "If we had millions of dollars it might be different but the shooting style is usually very commando. The biggest feature of the year might take six days to shoot but most take one or two days. Also, most women in porn are average looking, the same for the guys. I'm not sure how that will hold up (to high definition)."

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