HD-DVD picks up Hollywood support

The group supporting the HD-DVD optical disc format for high-definition video has received a boost in its battle against the rival Blu-ray Disc format with pledges of support from a number of Hollywood studios.

The format will be used by Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, the HD-DVD group said on Monday. It will also be used by HBO, Warner Bros. announced the same day.

The studios didn't announce the names or number of titles to be released using the format, and there was no mention of timing, with the exception of a pledge from Universal to have content available during the end-of-year holiday season in 2005.

"We want them to start to releasing as many titles as soon as they can," said Yoshihide Fujii, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Toshiba's digital media network company, a backer of the disk format.

The support is a coup for the group because it is the first time that any Hollywood studio -- with the exception of Sony Pictures, which is owned by Blu-ray Disc-backer Sony -- have come down firmly on the side of one of the formats. In October, Twentieth Century Fox Film joined the Blu-ray Disc Association but stopped short of committing to release any content in that format.

HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc use blue lasers in their optical systems. The discs are the same size as CD or DVD discs but offer data storage capacities several times greater than that of DVD. The extra capacity provides enough room to hold high-definition versions of movies and other content.

HD-DVD is backed by Toshiba and NEC and is being developed under the umbrella of the DVD Forum, the group that developed the DVD format. Blu-ray Disc has more major backers: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), Mitsubishi Electric, Philips Electronics, Pioneer Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony, TDK, Thomson Multimedia and Twentieth Century Fox.

To date, Sony Pictures is the only movie studio to announce plans to release content on the Blu-ray Disc format. Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. has also said that it plans to use Blu-ray Disc in the successor to its PlayStation 2 console.

At present the only hardware available is for the Blu-ray Disc format. Sony and Panasonic have released HDTV (high definition television) recorders in Japan, and Sharp will sell a similar product shortly. However, these machines don't include support for the Blu-ray Disc movie format, which is still being standardized.

On the HD-DVD side, Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. are all on schedule to release hardware in 2005, they said Monday. Included in Toshiba's plans is a sub-US$1,000 HD-DVD player. That's considerably cheaper than current Blu-ray Disc hardware, which costs around US$3,000.

Optical-disc maker Memory-Tech Corp. said it is ready to begin producing HD-DVDs. The company has already demonstrated test production and said it currently has five production lines each capable of producing 700,000 discs per month. By the beginning of 2005 it plans to add a sixth line, Shiroharu Kawasaki, president and CEO of Memory-Tech, said in an interview.

"We're ready to go at any time," he said.

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