New Skirmishes in DVD Format Battle

The battle between two next-generation DVD formats is creating such a stir that some companies are threatening to support both technologies if they don’t get their way.

Blu-ray supporter HP said this week that it could see itself also supporting rival standard HD-DVD if the Blu-ray Disc Association doesn’t include in the standard two technologies the Palo Alto, Calif., giant requested last month.

HP asked the group to include Managed Copy and iHD into the final standard, slated for spring 2006. HP believes that support for both technologies will help bring Blu-ray and HD-DVD closer together.

Managed Copy allows consumers to make legitimate copies of their HD movies to use around the home or across their networks. iHD allows new interactivity with standards-based development tools and technologies to provide consumers with better content, navigation and functionality for HD films.

While the Blu-ray group agreed to support Managed Copy, it is holding off on iHD, a technology Microsoft developed and plans to support in its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system. The Blu-ray group remains committed to using interactive features built on Sun Microsystems’ Java software.

But Blu-ray officials don’t want to make the story a case of Java versus Windows, a battle over which Sun and Microsoft have spent millions of dollars.

Andy Parson, Blu-ray spokesman and senior vice president of Pioneer Electronics, said Blu-ray isn’t trying to draw a line in the sand for HP by supporting Java, but is continuing along the path its member companies set out on several months ago.

“We are taking their request seriously,” Parsons said in an interview.

Maureen Weber, general manager for the personal storage business at HP, said that HP would be a little more neutral in its standards support, embracing both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, if Blu-ray did not support iHD.

“HP’s vision is to create a seamless, connected home where content is available to consumers no matter what device they’re using, whether it’s their notebook, PC or entertainment center,” she said. “We believe that kind of interactivity is critical to the user’s experience. Without it, we would potentially become more neutral as opposed to a Blu-Ray only position.”

Such differences are indicative of the cloud of dissent swirling around Blu-ray, led by Sony, and HD-DVD, led by Toshiba. While more and more movie studios are embracing Blu-ray, high-tech companies remain split on Blu-ray and HD DVD.

HP, Dell, Sony, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Walt Disney Co. and Twentieth Century Fox support Blu-ray. Microsoft, Intel, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Studios have endorsed HD-DVD.

But if HP convinced the Blu-ray group to support iHD, it’s conceivable Microsoft would embrace Blu-ray, too.

The dissent is reminiscent of the Sony-Betamax video-cassette standards war of the 1980s.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD use blue lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in current DVD players. This allows discs to store data at the higher densities needed for high-definition TV.

Consumer electronics retailers will be pressured to aggressively market DVD players equipped with either technology, creating a multi-billion-dollar market space.

While DVD players equipped with either format aren’t expected until 2006, Forrester Research has already tabbed Blu-ray the winner, citing Blu-ray’s greater capacity, Java support and ability to be used in games and computers.

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