Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) raised the stakes in a battle between high-definition DVD formats by urging a group led by Sony Corp. to include features important to PC makers and users. HP has long backed Sony's Blu-ray but last month Microsoft Corp and Intel Corp endorsed a competing high-definition DVD format known as HD-DVD, which is backed by Toshiba Corp. That prompted HP to make its move.
"We're still supporting Blu-ray but we're very serious that we want these technologies. If in the end, they're supported in one and then not the other, we'll have to make a choice," said Maureen Weber, general manager of personal storage in HP's personal systems group. Blu-ray and HD-DVD were not available for comment.
HP asked the makers of Blu-ray to include two technologies in its specifications now supported by HD-DVD. One is known as mandatory managed copy, allowing users to copy high-definition movies onto PCs from discs and distribute them on home networks. HP also asked Blu-ray to support a feature called iHD, which provides for new interactive features and is slated to be implemented in Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system.
HP said its move reflected its desire to ensure customers are not forced to choose between competing formats for DVDs. Microsoft said HP's call was in the best interest of consumers and the industry. "We'd like to see Blu-ray do the right thing and commit to these scenarios, avoiding a protracted format war that benefits no one," said spokesman Blair Westlake. Technology group Forrester Research declared Blu-ray as the winner in the increasingly heated battle over next-generation DVD technology that promises consumers sharper pictures and manufacturers new revenues. However, the battle is far from over, as neither technology is available for the mass market.
A key to which technology wins has been the support of Hollywood's major film studios, which until recently had been split evenly with three majors supporting Blu-ray and three behind HD-DVD. Earlier this month, however, Paramount Home Entertainment, owned by Viacom Inc., said it would release digital movies in the Blu-ray format, becoming the first major studio to support both. The formats are incompatible, which Hollywood fears will lead to consumer confusion. Industry watchers compare the standoff to the video battle between VHS and Betamax in the 1980s.
Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst with In-Stat, said that if Blu-ray makers include the technologies requested by HP, it would further put the ball in Blu-ray's court. "The PC industry can play an active part in pushing High Definition forward if Blu-ray includes these items," said Kaufhold. Schadler of Forrester said in his report that Sony learned from its painful Betamax loss that the format with the most industry support will win, and it set out years ago to assemble an "impregnable lineup of partners."
Sony and Toshiba held high-level talks earlier this year to try to unify their formats and avoid an all-out standards war, but those discussions broke down. (Reuters)
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