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Disc Duel

Chances for format unification seemed to be dimming as the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) began flagging attention to a consumer survey it commissioned, which it says shows consumers “overwhelmingly prefer” the Blu-ray Disc (BD) format to the rival HD DVD format.

Maureen Weber, HP’s optical storage general manager and BDA’s spokeswoman, said any format war that might develop will be short lived, citing the survey of 1,200 consumers conducted in May, showing 58 percent of respondents prefer BD, 16 percent prefer HD DVD, and 26 percent are undecided.

Among those qualified as “extremely interested” in purchasing a next-generation optical disc format, 66 percent favored BD, 19 percent were undecided, and 15 percent favored HD DVD, said Weber.

The study, which includes both quantitative and qualitative research, was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, using male and female respondents between the ages of 18 to 64. The mix included high-definition TV owners and HDTV intenders (representing 50 percent of the mix) with HDTV-ignorant individuals comprising the remaining 50 percent, Weber said.

Weber is taking the results of the “independent consumer study” it commissioned on a tour of media publications, she said, in part to counter claims by rivals that the BD format, particularly its 50GB recordable dual-layer disc, is “vaporware.”

Weber offered a working 50GB disc sample, adding they are in limited production now in Torrance, Calif., and dual-layer recordable discs are now offered for recorders selling in Japan.

In addition, the BDA is trying to make its next-generation disc system known to the public as members of the HD DVD camp, including Toshiba, NEC, Thomson and Sanyo, prepare to launch the first HD DVD players late this year.

Blu-ray Disc markers are targeting a mid-2006 format launch, offering at least some BD recorders and BD-recordable PC drives in the initial equipment releases, Weber said.

Meanwhile, a representative of the HD DVD camp blasted the survey for failing to offer “a fair comparison of the features, most specifically failing to mention that HD DVD has announced a 45GB disc,” said Mark Knox, advisor to Toshiba’s HD DVD promotions group.

Weber said respondents were not told about HD DVD’s proposed triple-layer 45GB disc format because it had just been announced and had not been approved by the DVD forum. She said doubts remained (in the BD camp) about that system’s technical viability.

In presenting the next-generation optical disc concept, survey respondents were given a range of benefits such a system would provide, including clearer pictures and sound, higher disc capacity, the ability to add various interactive features, faster seamless menus than DVDs, and bookmarking capability.

Weber said 70 percent of all respondents and 87 percent of extremely interested respondents selected backward compatibility with current DVDs as an important factor in selecting a next-generation optical disc system.

Weber said BD players and recorders will employ optical pickups that will read both BD and DVD content. In addition, 57 percent of respondents said the ability to play a movie in both high definition and standard definition via a combo disc that plays in current DVD players was also important.

Weber said JVC’s hybrid BD-ROM disc format, which has been approved by the BDA, will support both high-definition (up to 25GBs) and standard-definition movies (up to 8.5GBs) on a single-sided triple-layer disc if content providers elect to package films in that manner.

Backward compatibility with DVD has also been touted as a key feature in the rival HD DVD format, said Knox.

Also important (rating a nine or 10 on a one to 10 scale) to 62 percent of all respondents and 76 percent of extremely interested respondents was the ability to play the same disc in your computer, gaming console and next-generation DVD player.

Weber pointed out BD discs will be supported in Sony’s next-generation PlayStation 3 gaming console, and HP, Dell, Panasonic, Sony and Apple will support BD in PCs.

Also testing well in the survey was storage capacity. Sixty-four percent of respondents and 82 percent of extremely interested respondents rated larger disc storage capacity (25GB to 50GB for BD, compared to 4.7GB to 8.5GB for DVD) as a nine or 10; while 60 percent (77 percent of extremely interested respondents) said longer standard-definition recording times (20 to 30 hours vs. two hours for DVD) and the ability to fit a movie as well as its bonus features onto a single disc each rated a nine or a 10.

In comparing BD to HD DVD, 82 percent of all respondents and 87 percent of extremely interested respondents selected BD due its affiliated hardware/blank media companies, including Sony, Dell, HP, Hitachi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Apple, TDK, Thomson, Sharp, LG and JVC. Another 16 percent of all respondents said they were split between the two.

When shown lists of movie studios that have agreed to support the two formats, 20 percent selected BD (24 percent of those extremely interested) for Disney, Miramax, Touchstone, 20th Century Fox, MGM, ESPN and Sony Pictures. Thirteen percent selected HD DVD (10 percent of those extremely interested) for Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros, HBO and New Line, and 67 percent (66 percent of those extremely interested) said they were split between the two.