Dell and HP Back Blu-ray for Next-Gen DVDs

Opposing forces in the DVD format world are lining up support and touting firm rollout timelines as they compete to establish the next generation of DVD format specs, with the Blu-ray disc format winning support this week from computer makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

The two American companies join Sony, Hitachi, Matsushita, LG, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp and others in support of the blue-laser technology that will succeed today’s prevalent red-laser technology with increased capacity and content capability. The competing HD DVD format — also known as Advanced Optical Disc (AOD) and supported primarily by NEC and Toshiba — also relies on blue-laser technology.

Touting support from the DVD Forum — an association of more than 200 consumer electronics, IT and entertainment companies — HD DVD proponents might have an advantage because that technology is backward compatible with today’s DVD equipment. Many observers in the industry see competition between the Blu-ray, HD DVD and other proposed formats shaping up to be a format battle similar to the CD-versus-DIVX format wars.

Gartner research director Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld that although there is a need to standardize on one format, there is time for the format wars to play out.

Backing Blue

The Blu-ray Disc Founders (BDF) — the companies behind Blu-ray — announced they had “formalized the next steps in establishing Blu-ray Disc as the next generation optical disc format” and welcomed support from HP and Dell, calling it a milestone in serving both consumers and content owners.

“HP believes Blu-ray Disc is the most consumer-friendly technology choice for the next generation of removable storage,” HP consumer PC senior vice president John Romano said in a statement. “With ever-expanding uses for digital discs in the market, HP believes Blu-ray Disc will allow for the seamless interchange between consumer electronics and personal computers.”

BDF also said its BD-ROM format — a read-only technology in the Blu-ray format portfolio — was developed in collaboration with Hollywood studios and the IT industry and is expected to be available early this year, allowing for BD-ROM products by the end of next year. But even with announcements like BD-ROM, the major Hollywood studios remain somewhat of a wildcard in the format fight, according to analysts.

Competing Compatibility

While it has not won endorsements from the likes of Dell and HP, the competing AOD format has gained the blessing of the DVD Forum, which previously approved DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW technologies.

Also known as HD DVD now that it has the backing of the DVD Forum, the rival format will benefit from reportedly better backward compatibility with existing DVD players, according to the Yankee Group. The research firm said both Blu-ray and HD DVD technologies will be the basis for future players and recorders, some of which are already available in some markets.

“The first Blu-ray recorders are already starting to see daylight with Sony leading the way with the BDZ-S77 recorder [in Japan],” said a Yankee research report. “The introduction of AOD technology is also easy to do, as the technology reuses the same production machines used to make DVD technology today.” The Yankee report said Blu-ray requires new manufacturing technology and, as a result, a significant investment.

PC Is Key

Gartner’s Reynolds, however, argued that by gaining the support of Dell and HP in addition to other Blu-ray backers, the format has achieved a significant advantage.

“Dell and HP are significant because they have critical mass to make Blu-ray the PC standard,” he told TechNewsWorld. “PCs will be the bigger volume, and consumer devices sourced from outside of the DVD Forum will follow them.”

Reynolds said that while technology or legal issues could derail the Blu-ray format, “there is tremendous market mass leaning toward Blu-ray that defeats anything the DVD Forum is trying to do.”

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