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DVD Standard Format War to have Dubious Impact on Consumers

New York, Aug 26, 2005

Hope for compromise between competing technologies for next-generation DVDs has dwindled considerably, after reports from the negotiation table say that talks have come to a standstill. Two distinct camps are pushing for their respective standards to be adopted as the dominant format and are readying to send new products into the market. The emergence of two disparate technologies is widely acknowledged to be against the interests of consumers and the consumer electronics entertainment industry.

The conflict is between two standard digital optical media formats for high-definition DVD: Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. The Blu-ray standard (named for its use of blue-violet lasers) was developed collaboratively by a group of leading consumer electronics companies called the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), led by Sony and including Hitachi, LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, and Thomson Multimedia.

The HD DVD (High Density Digital Versatile Disc) standard – previously called the "Advanced Optical Disc" standard –was developed in the DVD Forum, an international association of hardware manufacturers, software firms, content providers and other users of Digital Versatile Discs. Sony and Toshiba are among the ten founding members of the DVD Forum, which voted in November 2003 that HD DVD would be the successor of the DVD. Sony had since took its Blu-ray Disc development outside the Forum, and the format was never submitted for consideration in that venue.

The formats, while ultimately incompatible, both use blue-violet lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in current DVD equipment. This allows discs to store more data at higher densities needed for high-definition movies and television. Although Sony's Blu-ray format is expected to have a bigger storage capacity than the HD-DVD format, it requires new hardware due its significant variation from existing DVDs. Toshiba’s HD-DVD format on the other hand, is very similar to existing DVD technology and can be played on red-laser DVD players, making it far less expensive to implement.

A single format makes the most sense for consumers, naturally, but it appears that buyers will be forced to make a choice between two different kinds of DVDs that will not be compatible in all players. Entertainment companies and movie studios have a lot at stake as well, with the unappetizing prospect of choosing which of the two opposing blue-laser formats on which to release their media.

While early support for HD DVD manifested into support by four major film studios, Sony’s Blu-ray technology has appeared to have edged ahead, garnering support from no less than six studios and a number of leading consumer electronics companies.

Consumers won’t have long to wait to see what ends up on store shelves, however. Toshiba HD-DVD products may ship as early as year-end 2005. Sony plans to put a Blu-ray disc drive in its new PlayStation game console sometime in 2006.

While Blu-ray and HD DVD were developed outside of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), standards for other high density, blue laser recording technologies are developed and maintained by the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC 1), Sub-committee 23.

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