Compromise unlikely in HD optical disc battle

Despite recent comments from Sony about compromise in the HD optical disc battle, both sides appear unwilling to move towards a unified format.

Recent comments by Sony executives have raised consumer hopes of a truce in the next-generation optical video disc battle between Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. But closer questioning of companies on both sides points to no significant change in their positions and the continued likelihood that consumers will be forced choose between two competing formats.

Sony is the main backer of Blu-ray Disc, a format that has picked up the support of many major consumer electronics makers, while HD-DVD counts NEC and Toshiba as its main backers. Both formats have been designed to hold high-definition movies and both are being promoted as a replacement for current DVD-Video, which cannot support HDTV (high-definition TV).

HD-DVD is promised before the end of this year while Blu-ray Disc based players and movies aren't expected until sometime in 2006.

With no compromise in sight, consumers are faced with a battle between the two formats that has been repeatedly compared to the VHS versus Betamax competition in the early days of the video cassette.

So, it likely came with great interest to potential users when Ryoji Chubachi, Sony's president-elect, said recently that Sony is open to the idea of compromise on high-definition video disc formats. The sentiment was repeated last week when another Sony executive, speaking at a company event in France, said the company is open to discussions with the rival HD-DVD camp to avoid a format war. On both occasions the executives said they had consumer interests at heart.

But late last week, a Sony spokesman ruled out any compromise over Blu-ray Disc. The only talks that Sony would entertain were those of the HD-DVD supporters dropping their format and supporting Blu-ray Disc, said Taro Takamine, a Sony spokesman in Tokyo.

"Sony and the Blu-ray [Disc] people are starting to get scared," said Christian Dias, a market analyst at Current Analysis in the U.S. "I don't think [a single format] is likely to happen. I think Sony is just trying to minimize its chances of failure."

Dias said HD-DVD's likely earlier launch could steal some of the thunder from Blu-ray Disc and that might impact its chances of success.

Like Sony, major HD-DVD backers NEC and Toshiba agree that a single format would be beneficial for consumers and the industry but both companies appear equally unwilling to make any serious effort at compromise.

"We have not given up in trying to succeed in getting one format to the market," said Ryoichi Hayatsu, chief manager of NEC's computer platform business unit. "We are waiting for someone to propose one format to the DVD Forum, because our specification belongs to the DVD Forum."

Hayatsu said talks could only begin it a proposal was made through a technical working group of the DVD Forum. "Technically it is very difficult to compromise with the format," he said.

Paul Kallender contributed to this report.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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