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The war to succeed DVDs


The papers are abuzz today with news of Apple following Dell and HP in backing Sony's proposal for next generation DVDs. Called Blu-Ray, these discs can hold as much 5 – 6 times more data than the current red laser based discs, and offer better copyright protection. Everyone is speculating that this might be the last nail in the HD-DVD format that Toshiba is pushing, and Blu-ray is the clear frontrunner now in the battle of formats, so maybe this just might be where Sony ends their dismal record in winning standards. Apple is a one-product company now – a glorified manufacturer of a (really cool) music player, and it's endorsement of the format may not mean much to Blu-Ray except for some good press.

Here's some background on the DVD war of succession from (where else?) the Economist.

In one corner is the HD-DVD format, backed by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo. The details are still sketchy - the specification will not be finalised until February - but HD-DVD will offer at least three times the storage capacity of DVD, while improved video-compression software will further boost capacity. The new format has the backing of the DVD Forum, which means it is the “official” successor to the DVD format. Proponents of HD-DVD claim the discs can be made cheaply using existing DVD production lines with very little modification. The first HD-DVD devices will go on sale next year.

In the other corner is Blu-ray, backed by a consortium that includes Sony, Matsushita, Hitachi and Philips. Blu-ray discs have around five times the capacity of DVDs, allowing each disc to store around two hours of high-definition video, or 13 hours of standard video. Sony has been selling Blu-ray recorders in Japan since 2003, and Matsushita and Sharp have both launched Blu-ray devices this year.

According to the article, there are four possible outcomes. A clear win for one of the standards; a compromise that causes an entirely new standard that combines elements of the competing formats, although “Nobody wants to bend, since neither side wants to give up the lucrative royalties it stands to make if its standard prevails. Instead, both sides are digging in for a long fight”; coexistence with DVD players capable of playing both formats – but this is difficult since the two formats are very different from each other; or the market not taking off at all. If I were a betting kind of person, I would bet on a Blu-Ray win.