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HP backs both rivals in DVD horse race

Posted by: , 18:13 AEDT, Sat December 17, 2005
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Hewlett-Packard has announced it will support both contenders to be the next generation of DVDs, a change of tack that could raise the chances of an expensive format war.

The computer maker had previously been a staunch supporter of Sony-backed Blu-ray technology, which is competing with HD DVD to be the high-definition disc format adopted by gear makers and movie studios. However, Blu-ray backers last month rejected a call by HP to include several technical features in the disc specifications.

In response, the computer maker said Friday that it would continue to support Blu-ray, but would also join the Toshiba-led group working to promote HD DVD.

"Because HP wants to deliver the most user-friendly and cost-effective solution to our customers, we have decided to support both formats," said Maureen Weber, general manager of HP's personal storage division, in a statement. "By joining the HD DVD Promotions Group and continuing work with the Blu-ray Disc Association, HP will be in a better position to assess true development costs and, ultimately, provide the best and most affordable solution for consumers."

The issue of development costs has been a sensitive one for the Blu-ray camp, which has recently been gaining momentum as movie studios formerly supporting HD DVD have said they would release content in both forms next year.

Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats have been designed to hold far more data than today's DVDs, in order to distribute high-definition movies, games and other bulky files. Blu-ray will provide a 25GB and a 50GB version, while HD DVD backers have promised 15GB, 30GB and 45GB versions.

However, HD DVD discs are much more similar to today's DVDs in construction. Some disc manufacturers have said that those will be substantially cheaper to produce, at least in lower-capacity versions, for the foreseeable future. Sony has contested this, predicting that Blu-ray costs would quickly come down and that the difference between costs of the two formats would be minimal.

In its statement, HP said that the Blu-ray Association had agreed to adopt a technology called "mandatory managed copy." That feature would allow a movie to be taken off the DVD and stored on a home server--for streaming throughout a home network, for example. It would not allow unrestricted copying.

The mandatory managed technology has been called for in future discs by Microsoft and Intel. Those companies have joined the group backing HD DVD, which adopted the feature as part of its specification earlier.

However, HP said that the Blu-ray Disc Association did not agree to support a technology called iHD, developed by Microsoft and Disney, which will provide interactive features on the discs themselves. Blu-ray instead plans to adopt interactive features built using Java technology from Sun Microsystems.

HP, which had asked in October that Blu-ray support iHD, said that technology would have lower development costs, since Microsoft is building it into the next version of the Windows operating system.

A spokesperson for the Blu-ray Disc Association was not immediately availible for comment.

An HP representative said that the company had not yet made decisions on which technologies would be supported in products themselves. Those decisions will be made after investigating costs and efficiencies of both formats, she said.

Disc players and movies for both formats are expected to be released next year, a prospect that has led to fears of a format war similar to the original tug-of-war between Sony's Betamax and the VHS videotape. Credit: CNet News


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