Talks Over DVD Format Standard Stall

Toshiba Corp. is resisting the idea of establishing a unified format for next-generation, high-definition DVDs, industry sources have confirmed, and there are indications the chances of an agreement are slim to none.

As The Mac Observer reported last week, talks between Toshiba, Sony and Panasonic have been taking place to find one standard for the future of HD DVD media, players and recorders.

Toshiba reportedly is against agreeing to a industry standard based on Sonyis technology. A senior Toshiba official was quoted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Monday as saying one format based on Sony technology would be "extremely difficult." The negotiations have been leaning toward unifying the formats based on the Blu-ray disc structure, but Toshiba continues to maintain that adopting the HD DVD structure would be in the best interest of consumers in terms of cost and disc capacity.

Sources from all three companies say talks will continue, but that there is a little else to discuss in the way of compromising on technology standards.

One way of bringing both groups together would be a technological solution. Japanese company JVC unveiled at CES a non-recordable hybrid disc featuring an integration of DVD/Blue-ray formats that could prove to be the answer. The new DVD has three layers, dual DVD-layers topped by a 25GB high-definition Blue-ray layer for a total of 33.5GB capacity. JVC said it is working on a three-layer disc providing one Blue-ray layer and two DVD layers for a total of 58.5GB of storage capacity.

A source close to the matter told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that a unified format based on Blu-rayis disc structure was being discussed in the talks, which are aimed at avoiding the VHS/Betamax wars of the 1980s that confused consumers.

Blu-ray is a next-generation optical disc format for HD video and high-capacity software applications. The format was developed originally by Sony to enable recording, rewriting and playback of HD video, as well as storing large amounts of data.

A single-layer Blu-ray Disc can hold 25GB, which can be used to record over two hours of HDTV or more than 13 hours of standard-definition TV. There are also dual-layer versions of the discs that can hold 50GB.

While current optical disc technologies such as DVD, DVD?R, DVD?RW, and DVD-RAM use a red laser to read and write data, the new format uses a blue-violet laser instead, hence the name Blu-ray.

The The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has over 100 members including Apple Computer, which joined the group in March of this year, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp and Sony, Sony Pictures, MGM and Walt Disney. Over the years, Apple has used Pioneer and Sony DVD drives in its Macintosh computers.

In the HD-DVD camp are manufacturers Toshiba, NEC, film studios Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema.

While HD-DVD has not got as many backers, it does have some technology advantages over Blu-Ray. Media and mass-produced movie titles on HD-DVD can be made in the same plants that are now being used to make standard definition discs. The advantage will be cheaper prices on HD-DVD discs than Blu-Ray.

Blu-ray discs are expected to become available in three different versions in the next few months -- BD-ROM as a read-only format, BD-R as write-once and BD-RE, a rewritable format.

In January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Philips demonstrated a Blu-Ray disc drive with backwards compatibility to CDs and DVDs. Still in its early stages of development, the device reads and writes CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs. Philips expects the drives to ship in the second half of this year.