Microsoft Corp and Intel Corp have shown their cards on the emerging high-capacity DVD format battle, backing the HD DVD specification over the rival, and arguably more popular and mature Blu-ray spec.
The Wintel move will likely prompt major PC makers, some of which are only officially backing Blu-ray, to reconsider their allegiances, and will likely reignite standardization debate amongst consumer electronics makers and movie studios.
The companies gave six reasons why they chose the Toshiba/NEC-created HD DVD over Sony/Philips’ Blu-ray, none of which were the fact that Blu-Ray’s guiding body has settled on Java, anathema to Microsoft, as a mandatory part of the standard.
Far from characterizing it as a religious move, Microsoft and Intel said in a joint statement that capacity, compatibility, copy protection and cost of manufacturing were key reasons for backing HD DVD.
The HD DVD spec includes a managed copy feature that gives consumers more flexibility to make a DRM-wrapped copy of their movie DVDs to their computer hard drives, and play them on portable devices.
The companies also tried to make out that HD DVD has a greater capacity than Blu-ray’s BD discs, saying: HD DVD-ROM discs will offer dual-layer 30GB discs at launch, compared with BD-ROM discs, which will be limited to 25GB.
The words at launch are key there. The maximum capacity of a dual-layer HD DVD-ROM is indeed 30GB, but the 25GB capacity attributed to BD-ROMs refers to single-layer. Dual-layer BD-ROMs will double the capacity.
Wintel also points to features such as picture-in-picture, and the fact that a HD DVD will be able to store two copies of a movie — one in regular resolution and one in high definition — as technological benefits over Blu-ray.
In addition, HD DVDs are cheaper to produce, the companies said, given that they can be produced on existing DVD equipment, whereas Blu-ray requires new equipment.
But there are obvious competition concerns at play here too, at least for Microsoft. Sony developed the Blu-ray spec, and is said to be planning to include a Blu-Ray player in its next Playstation games console, which competes with Microsoft’s Xbox.
In addition, at JavaOne in June, Yasushi Nishimura, director of Panasonic R&D of America, announced that all Blu-ray disc player devices will be shipped equipped with Java, a move that cannot have been music to Microsoft’s ears.
The Blu-Ray Association has about 100 members, including consumer electronics manufacturers such as Sony, Philips, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sharp, TDK and Samsung.
It also has backing from the top two PC makers, HP and Dell, and Apple. Twentieth Century Fox and Walt Disney are among its moviemaking supporters, as are Sony-owned production houses Sony Pictures and MGM.
The HD DVD Promotion Group is managed by Memory-Tech, Sanyo, Toshiba and NEC. PC maker members of note include Lenovo and Acer. Hollywood members include Paramount and Warner Home Video.
Products supporting both formats are already available, albeit in limited numbers. Toshiba yesterday announced a laptop with an HD DVD drive. Sony has released a Blu-ray player in Japan. Its PS3 is expected to also have a Blu-ray drive.
The two formats are expected to be finalized and products are expected to hit the market seriously in the US early next year, with European launches later.
There still may be the possibility of compromise between the rival groups before high-capacity DVDs become mass-market. But if consumers end up with the casting vote, and if history is a reliable guide, then the format with the most porn will probably win.