LONDON (Reuters) - The Beatles take a step closer to selling their music online on Wednesday with the simultaneous release of the band's re-mastered catalog and the MTV video game The Beatles: Rock Band.
The Beatles collection, available from 09/09/09, is expected to dominate the charts in key markets like the United States and Britain, bringing a windfall to the group's label EMI Music and the Fab Four's company Apple Corps Ltd.
Retailers who have seen physical music sales eroded over recent years are also gearing up for queues around the block for both the CDs and the video game, an added bonus after Michael Jackson's death in June saw a spike in sales.
While the re-mastered catalog, its first overhaul since 1987, is seen appealing mainly to Beatles' fans who would appreciate subtle variations and improvements that technology has brought, most excitement surrounds MTV's video game.
"I think this (the game) is significant because it will enable the music to be heard by a new generation of fans," said Gennaro Castaldo of music and gaming retailer HMV in London.
"It just keeps the Beatles mythology growing and growing, so that's why it is so significant."
The fact that, according to Billboard, the Beatles will soon allow fans to buy at least some of their music in digital form as extra downloadable content for the game, underlines how close the digital age may be.
"I think the Beatles music soon will be available everywhere," Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George and who produced the music for the game, told Reuters at London's Abbey Road Studios where the band recorded.
Fans of arguably the world's most successful pop band, with album sales of more than 600 million worldwide, have waited for years to be able to download the Beatles' coveted body of work, but have been frustrated partly by a trademark dispute.
The new music collection comprises 12 Beatles albums in stereo, with track listings and artwork as originally released in Britain, and "Magical Mystery Tour," which became part of the Beatles' core catalog when the CDs were released in 1987.
In addition, the collections "Past Masters Vol. I and II" are combined as one title, making 14 titles overall.
Allan Rouse, who oversaw the re-mastering, said improved computer software had allowed his team to improve the quality and sound of the Beatles' catalog, including through removing bad edits, electrical clicks and sibilance.
"Obviously the only people who are going to notice those little things are the fans, because they will know that they've gone," Rouse told Reuters.
"But on the other hand, for the future generation, they probably don't want to hear things like sibilance and pop and a bad edit. It's very close to listening to a master tape."
Another obstacle to appreciating the changes is the dominance of iPods, he added.
"The sad fact of it is that so many people ... are going to rip them into their computer and put them onto their iPods, so yes, listening on an iPod you probably will find it very difficult to tell the difference."
The game offers 45 songs from the band's catalog, each member is animated in detail and real crowd noise from Beatles' performances is used.
With video game sales falling sharply in the United States, the makers of The Beatles: Rock Band are aiming to appeal to older consumers who have not yet experimented with the format but may be attracted by their love of the music.
"It's becoming a family event because it's moved from the bedroom to the front room where the whole family can play," HMV's Castaldo said.
Editing by Paul Casciato