Time is running out for optical disc format compromise

A format battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray looks increasingly inevitable as time quickly runs out for a compromise.

A format battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the race to replace DVD looks increasingly inevitable as time quickly runs out for a compromise. Supporters of both formats agree that compromise would benefit the entire industry but talks are stalled and HD-DVD backers will soon need to begin final design and development of products if they are to meet their commercialisation schedule.

Both formats can hold considerably more data than a DVD and are being promoted as replacements for DVD for high-definition movie content.

The HD-DVD group has committed to having products in the market before the end of 2005. It typically requires two to three months to bring a product to market from the beginning of design, so with just over four months left until the end of the year there's not much time for talk. Waiting longer would leave the market open for Blu-ray Disc.

"Our stance hasn't changed," said Junko Furuta, a spokeswoman for Toshiba, which is one of the main backers of HD-DVD. "We think a single format is best and we are still open to discussions," she said Tuesday.

Sony Corp., a major backer of Blu-ray Disc, is also open to discussions, said Taro Takamine, a company spokesman. He said the Blu-ray Disc group's stance hasn't changed and that it continues to believe that its format is best for the future needs of the consumer electronics, computer gaming and PC data storage markets.

The prospect of a format battle, which is widely acknowledged by all participants to be against the interests of the entire IT and consumer electronics industry and its customers, has been around since late 2002 when Toshiba and NEC proposed their format, called Advanced Optical Disc at the time, to the DVD Forum several months after Blu-ray Disc was announced.

But it wasn't until earlier this year that a battle started getting taken more seriously. In April talks took place, but they got nowhere.

At a news conference on June 28 Atsutoshi Nishida, the new chief executive officer of Toshiba, again called for talks. "We need to be willing to integrate," he said.

However, at present there are no talks taking place between the two sides, Toshiba's Furuta said. Japan's mass-market Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Tuesday that executives at both companies have given up hope of a compromise.

It's not just consumers that will lose out if such a contest does happen. Equipment makers will likely suffer lower sales because consumers are expected to put off purchases. Content producers such as movie studios will also likely lose out because of lower demand.

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Martyn Williams

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