Bandai hedges bets on next-generation optical discs

Japanese animation production company Bandai Visual has joined the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) and may release titles based on the Blu-ray Disc format next-generation optical disc technology, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

But the company is adopting a wait-and-see attitude and may release titles on the rival HD-DVD (High Definition/High Density-DVD) format, according to Bandai spokeswoman Tomomi Motosu.

Bandai, whose library includes "Ghost in the Shell" and this year's "Steam Boy" animated movie, is already a member of the HD-DVD Association and has a stock of 465 titles, she said.

"Consumer support is extremely important... and we believe that the technologies are still on the way. We haven't made any firm decisions yet," she said.

Causing the company's reluctance is a likely standards battle between Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD over which will replace DVDs as the de facto optical disc standard for high-definition video storage and playback.

The BDA includes over 90 member companies and is responsible for promoting Blu-ray Disc, which counts companies such as Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) as major backers. HD-DVD is backed by NEC, Toshiba and Sanyo Electric.

Both technologies use blue lasers in their optical systems and discs that are the same size as DVDs. The data storage capacity is several times that of DVD. High-volume commercial sales of discs and players for each format is expected in 2006.

Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps are trying to get Hollywood studios and other major content providers such as Bandai to commit to release titles on each format.

In November, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and HBO said they would release titles on HD-DVDs. In December, The Walt Disney and its Buena Vista Home Entertainment division said they would support Blu-ray, joining Sony's Sony Pictures unit.

In Disney's case, the company joined the BDA's board of directors, allowing the company to have a say in technical and other development issues. Bandai, however, has become an ordinary member of the BDA, so it is unlikely to play a such prominent role.

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Paul Kallender

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