Series of short films to be shot in high-definition.

Raising the bar in the Blu-ray Disc vs. HD DVD battle, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is creating a series of short films to be shot in high-definition to accompany select films the studio will release in the Blu-ray format.

It's the first move by any studio to develop original content for Blu-ray, a step observers feel is critical to giving the format the upper edge over rival HD DVD.

Finding a successor to standard DVD is a key issue in Hollywood, as 28 million U.S. households are expected to have HDTVs by the end of this year and packaged media desperately needs a seat at that table. The latest projections are that high-def discs could generated $10 billion in an annual consumer spending by 2010, keeping home entertainment spending level despite continued and rapid encroachment by digital downloading.

The "Blu-Scape" shorts will be presented in 1080p and shot by cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg, who two years ago directed a theatrical feature film, "America's Heart and Soul," for Walt Disney Pictures.

Buena Vista revealed Monday (July 17) its first nine titles in the next-generation Blu-ray Disc format, coming in two waves, beginning Sept. 19. Five of them—Walt Disney Pictures' "Dinosaur," "Eight Below," "Glory Road" and "Haunted Mansion," along with Touchstone Pictures' "Gone in Sixty Seconds"—will come with the exclusive shorts, which the studio says will be "inspired" by the respective films.

Schwartzberg has a long line of credits in both television and film. His company, BlackLight Films, has worked on such major theatrical features as "Syriana," "War of the Worlds," "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe," "Crash" and "American Beauty." Television credits include "Alias," "CSI: New York" and Showtime's "Masters of Horror." Schwartzberg also directed the 2004 Walt Disney Pictures feature "America's Heart and Soul."

"The Blu-ray Disc represents a major technological breakthrough in our industry," BVHE president Bob Chapek said. "Just as DVD revolutionized home entertainment, the Blu-ray Disc promises to deliver a new and unparalleled consumer experience. The possibilities are endless and we've just begun to bridge the future of this exciting new paradigm."

"Dinosaur" and "Eight Below" are slated for Sept. 19 release, along with Miramax Films' "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and "The Great Raid."

The second wave of titles, due Oct. 17, includes "Glory Road, "Haunted Mansion" and "Gone in Sixty Seconds," as well as Touchstone's "Dark Water" and Dimension Films' "The Brothers Grimm."

Most Buena Vista Blu-ray titles will list for $34.99.

At launch, Buena Vista's Blu-ray titles will feature advanced new menus, with seamless navigation and settings that can be accessed while the movie is playing. They also will come with new layering coating technology that provides a scratch-resistant surface.

Still being developed: more groundbreaking interactive features; personalized chapter selections; and compelling online content, including Web connectivity that will allow users to connect to live events hosted by the studio.

"These are incredibly exciting times, since we are in an era where the consumer has growing control over the delivery of their entertainment choices, including packaged media," Chapek said. "We are confident that the Blu-ray Disc will be the high-definition choice for the home entertainment future."

Buena Vista's expected announcement will make it the fourth studio to announce titles and release dates for Blu-ray, tipping the scale in favor of the Sony-developed format. Warner Home Video weighed in last week with four titles, while Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Lionsgate have both been releasing product since late June.

Rival HD-DVD, from Toshiba, only has three studios releasing product: Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment and Warner.

Paramount and 20th Century Fox are expected to announce their inaugural Blu-ray Disc lineups shortly.