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Fox Joins Blu-ray Disc Association

Tokyo — Twentieth Century Fox formally announced its support of the Blu-ray Disc format as a next-generation optical standard and joined the now 14-member board of Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA).

Fox is the second movie studio to announce support for Blu-ray Disc, joining Sony Pictures/Columbia Tri-Star.

Michael O’Neill, special advisor/optical media for the Fox Technology Group, said at a press conference, here, on Monday that while his company joined the BDA board “very positively to begin the process and become more deeply involved in the [format’s] development” the studio “is not ready to commit its content yet.”

Fox continues to explore the potential of the rival HD DVD format through the DVD Forum, according to O’Neill.

“We wanted to be involved in the development of a new format. The 2005 or 2006 timeframe to introduce Blu ray is not ours, but the CE company’s timeframe,” O’Neill said. “We want to see if either one of these formats can be developed successfully and provide copy protection.”

O’Neill said, “This is a learning process to create together a successful format. We are enthusiastic about our participation and want to share information. We are glad to work with BDA to develop a high-definition format.”

Kiyoshi Nishitani of Sony, and a member of the BDA board, said that even though Fox is not committing its content to the format yet, the studio’s act of joining the group is significant. “[Fox] can exchange ideas on the format” as a member of the association and “can present Hollywood’s views on the format and on copy protection,” he noted.

BDA said that within weeks of its August seminar, 59 companies joined with members of what was originally called the Blu-ray Disc Founders Group leading to the previously announced formation of the BDA. Founding members included Panasonic, Sony, Dell, HP, Hitachi, LG, Mitsubishi, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, TDK and Thomson.

When Nishitani was asked if Blu-ray has taken a lead over HD DVD in development, he noted, “This is not a marathon or a 100-meter sprint to take on new technology … we want [the industry] to share all [the format’s] capabilities. We have given more attentiveness to what the needs of the consumer electronics and IT industries are. We see packaged media as a key area that will lead to the growth of [the Blu-ray format].”

While Sony and Panasonic have had Blu-ray Disc recording decks on the market in Japan for a couple of months, Nishitani does not expect recorders to be in other markets until 2005 or 2006. To make it in 2005 at this point, manufacturers are “pressed for time” to get standards and agreements set.

The issues of packaged media and copy protection are keys to Blu-ray’s introduction in the United States, according to Anthony Jasionowski, group manager for Panasonic Technologies’ Strategic Planning and Development Office, based in Secaucus, N.J. who attended the press briefing and agreed with the possible 2005 or 2006 time frame.

When asked if there was a possibility of consolidating the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats, Nishitani did not hold out much hope, saying that the physical thickness of the discs are so different.

In other Blu-ray news, Maureen Weber of Hewlett-Packard, head of the BDA Promotion Committee, said the formation of the new association enables members to aggressively educate key industries and decision makers about the viability of the format.

“We at HP feel that Blu-ray is revolutionary, not evolutionary, and has interactive features that we haven’t even explored yet.” She noted that Fox’s participation will “identify many of those new features” and that a promotional effort, kicking off this week at CEATEC, will continue through CES and other trade shows, and will include media tours in the United States and around the globe during 2006.