Sony's home entertainment unit has named the first 20 movies it intends to launch on Blu-ray Disc, the high-definition video disc format backed by Sony and several other major consumer electronics manufacturers.

The announcement was made to coincide with the start of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas at which commercialization plans for the format are expected to be announced.

"We want everyone to know that there will be plenty of software content [for the launch of Blu-ray Disc]," said Ben Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, in a telephone interview.

Sony's first movies will include: The Fifth Element, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Desperado, For a Few Dollars More, The Guns of Navarone, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, A Knight's Tale, Kung Fu Hustle, The Last Waltz, Legends of the Fall, Resident Evil Apocalypse, Robocop, Sense and Sensibility, Stealth, Species, SWAT, XXX, Black Hawk Down and The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The discs will be launched to coincide with the availability of home players, he said. Major consumer electronics brands are expected to disclose their launch schedule later in the week.

The retail price of the discs wasn't disclosed and Feingold said this will be announced in the next couple of weeks. He said they will be priced at a premium on existing DVDs but they won't be a lot more expensive.

"I think people will be happy," he said of the pricing.

Among the launch titles, Bram Stoker's Dracula will be released with multichannel uncompressed audio and both Black Hawk Down and The Bridge on the River Kwai will be released on dual-layer 50GB discs, said Feingold.

Content makers have a choice of three video compression systems to choose from on Blu-ray Disc including MPEG2, which is used on current DVDs, and the newer VC1 and MPEG4 AVC formats. Sony will employ the MPEG2 system because it can provide a better picture, said Feingold.

"The new codecs are interesting but unproven," he said.

From the middle of the year the company plans to add Java-based games to its discs. At about the same time, new releases should be running at around four titles per month rising to ten titles per month during the fourth quarter.

Blu-ray Disc is backed by a group of major consumer electronics manufacturers including Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung. It will compete against the HD-DVD format, which is backed by the DVD Forum and companies including Toshiba, NEC, Intel, and Microsoft.

The first HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players are expected in stores during the first half of this year.