By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
IT industry powerhouses Microsoft and Intel gave the HD DVD format a major credibility boost by formally announcing support of the next-generation optical disc.
The two companies did not discuss what they intend to contribute to the format's further development or exactly how they plan to support the system in future products, but they did say they will join the HD DVD Promotion Group to assist with marketing efforts.
The announcement followed recent announcements of major new studio support for the rival Blu-ray Disc format, which added to its camp 20th Century Fox, Lion's Gate and Paramount (see story below). Sony, a founding Blu-ray company, has also touted inclusion of the Blu-ray Disc format in its next-generation Playstation 3 product, due next Spring.
Microsoft had been long expected to announce its support for the HD DVD format. Some observers thought the company would support HD DVD in the forthcoming Xbox 360 video game system, due in stores this November.
But the computer software giant delayed any formal commitment to HD DVD until after it announced Xbox 360 launch plans. Microsoft did not make a formal commitment to HD DVD for the new Xbox system in its announcement of support for the format.
Jordi Ribas, Microsoft's Windows digital media division technical strategy director, said Microsoft held back for as long as possible an endorsement for either next-generation optical disc format, hoping that both systems would eventually fulfill Microsoft's required specifications or that a unified format would emerge. The companies said in the endorsement statement that they believe a single optical disc format “is an ideal solution that would drive rapid consumer adoption.”
“As time went on, while HD DVD was nailing what we felt were very important requirements for any next-generation format, Blu-ray was drifting farther and farther apart from them,” Microsoft's Ribas told TWICE. “What we are going to do with Windows Vista [the next Windows OS] is build in as many infrastructure components as possible so that it will be very easy for a third party — whether it's a PC OEM or ISP — to basically build a player on top of it that will extend the experience from the infrastructure to full playback.”
Ribas said, “At this point we have no plans to build in support for Blu-ray Disc in Windows Vista,” citing among other things, delays in getting the spec for the BD+ content protection system that was recently added to the Blu-ray format.
Ribas said Blu-ray developers and other third-parties “will be welcome to build in infrastructure components supporting Blu-ray [such as drivers] themselves.”
Blu-ray Disc Association members pointed to the support of Hewlett-Packard and Dell – both major suppliers of Windows-based PCs – as assurance that Blu-ray Disc products would be supported by next generation PCs and Media Centers.
Microsoft and Intel listed the following attributes as influencing their decisions to support only HD DVD at this time:
Managed copy is “a guaranteed feature within HD DVD,” allowing consumers to make copies of their discs to a hard drive or home server, “including Media Center PCs using Intel Viiv technology,” for use over home networks. HD DVD discs will also allow copies of a movie to be played on portable devices.
HD DVD “hybrid discs” will ensure “future-proof” technology by enabling a single disc to store both high-definition and standard-definition versions of a film. The companies explained that customers that purchase hybrid discs will be able to play movies on their current DVD systems, and have the same disc playback content in high definition when they upgrade to an HD DVD device.
HD DVD will deliver lower disc production costs at high volume, because the disc technology “uses essentially the same manufacturing equipment as existing DVDs.”
HD DVD-ROM discs will offer high-capacity dual-layer 30GB discs at launch, “compared with BD-ROM discs, which will be limited to 25GB,” the companies said.
HD DVD will deliver “superior interactivity” using iHD technology, allowing for enhanced content, navigation and value-added functionality for high-definition films.
The companies also praised HD DVD as a “superior format for notebook PCs” because of its compatibility with standard DVDs and the ability to develop slim disc drives for integration in notebook PCs.
Toshiba, a founder of the HD DVD format, issued a response from Japan to the endorsements, saying, “We are confident that Intel and Microsoft's endorsement of HD DVD, in addition to the support already expressed by major Hollywood studios, Japanese and international content holders and disc replicators, will add to the momentum of support that is powering acceptance of HD DVD as the format of choice for next-generation HD applications.”
Meanwhile, Toshiba executives in Japan confirmed speculation that the U.S. market launch of HD DVD players has been pushed back until late in the first quarter of 2006. The company cited the need to build inventory of both hardware and software to support a major rollout.
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