The first time Joseph Cotton's war correspondent Holly Martins discovers his presumed dead friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), in postwar Vienna, the moment packs a powerful punch.

'Wait until you see the sequence in pristine high-definition video,' says Peter Becker.

Carol Reed's 1949 classic The Third Man is one of five titles Becker's boutique New York-based arthouse DVD publisher Criterion is issuing on Blu-ray (November 18). The company is also releasing Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express and Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket simultaneously in both standard and high-definition formats.

Additionally, the company is making available Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. In total, Criterion has announced 13 titles on its first wave of high-definition offerings.

For a publisher already considered the worldwide gold standard for the quality of its digital transfers and the scholarship and range of supplementary materials, offering titles in high definition is the logical next step of the company's evolution, says Becker.

'We're not telling people they need to switch. There's a large audience of loyal Criterion viewers who are very happy with their (standard collection). We don't feel any need to fix something that they don't feel is broken.

'On the other hand, there's a very sizable and vocal part of our audience that has been in touch with us the last year-and-a-half trying to encourage us to make some films available in high definition.'

The strong customer identification for a company that publishes predominantly arthouse and foreign-language titles, Becker says releasing high-definition titles fits the company's corporate prerogative of presenting films in the finest available quality. Since 2000, Becker says virtually all of Criterion's scrupulous remastering or restoration work is done in high definition.

'As a way of delivering the highest-quality picture and sound that we can, Blu-ray is fantastic,' he says. 'I can't tell you how satisfactory it is to not have to compress the hell out of these gorgeous high-definition masters.

'For the first time, we have enough resolution to (capture) the film grain instead of trying to create an impression of the film grain.'

In part not to alienate its deeply faithful customer base, Criterion is releasing the high-definition titles at the same price as the standard editions. 'We're taking an exploratory view of this,' says Becker. 'In terms of the volumes of releases and the rhythm and speed that we'll release, that is a little bit open. If there's strong support, we may be able to bring more out.'