Microsoft, Intel Back HD DVD

A next-generation DVD format war looms, as Microsoft and Intel claim HD DVD is more suitable than Blu-Ray for PCs and laptops.

Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. gave their backing to Toshiba Corp.s HD DVD format on Tuesday, as a next-generation DVD format war with the Sony-backed Blu-Ray format looks increasingly unavoidable.

The two formats offer various advantages for manufacturers and content providers, but the two IT industry giants said the HD DVD format is more suitable for PCs, and particularly laptops. HD DVD drives are designed to build on existing DVD hardware, so that they can take up less space, making them ideal for slim form factors, supporters argue.

Microsoft and Intel said they will join the HD DVD Promotion Group, which also includes NEC Corp., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. and Memory-Tech Corp.

Microsoft officials said Windows Vista, the next major update to its dominant operating system, will support only HD DVD in its default configuration, with Blu-Ray support requiring additional software. Previously, Microsoft had said Vista would support both formats.

/zimages/6/28571.gifMacrovision says its RipGuard technology will eliminate the vast majority of DVD copying. Click here to read more.

Microsoft may have another reason to place its bets on HD DVD, since it competes head-on with Sony in the games console market. Microsofts Xbox 360 will initially ship with a standard DVD drive, but Tuesdays decision means a future version of the console will use HD DVD. Sony has committed to supporting Blu-Ray in its PlayStation3.

Intel said its upcoming Viiv platform—a Centrino-like suite of hardware components customized for the living room—will be tailored for HD DVD. Intel and Microsoft are to launch Viiv-based Media Center PCs early next year.

Toshiba said the format offers the best compatibility between audio-visual and PC products. "It is increasingly clear that HD DVD offers the best way forward in the convergence of the AV and PC worlds," said Hisashi Yamada, chief fellow of Toshibas Digital Media Network Co. and chairman of DVD Forums technical coordination group, in a statement.

In a joint statement, Intel and Microsoft said they still hope to find middle ground between HD DVD and Blu-Ray. "Although the companies have determined that HD DVD is the only viable solution at this time, each remains committed to working toward one format that meets consumer and industry requirements," they said. Talks between the two camps broke down in May.

The positioning of PC industry players is expected to carry significant weight in the next-generation DVD battle. PCs were the earliest major consumer of DVD drives and have helped to popularize later DVD derivatives such as recordable discs.

Many PC makers are squaring off on the other side, however, with Blu-Ray backers including Apple Computer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc.

Movie studios are likely to play an even more important role in swaying consumers, but they are also split: Sony, News Corp.s Fox and Walt Disney Co. back Blu-Ray, with Viacom Inc.s Paramount Pictures, General Electric Co.s NBC Universal and Time Warner Inc.s Warner Home Video backing HD DVD. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Vivendi Universal SAs Universal Music Group joined the 140-member Blu-Ray Disc Association in August.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about the studios supporting HD DVD.

Toshiba said on Tuesday it will introduce a PC with a slim form factor, read-only HD DVD drive in Japan early in 2006. The drive will also support reading and writing of DVD and CD discs. Toshiba has previously said it will launch a consumer HD DVD player in Japan in the fourth quarter of 2005, with several movies released in HD DVD format in the country by the end of this year.

The Blu-Ray-equipped PlayStation3 is scheduled to arrive early in 2006.

Blu-Ray discs offer multilayer storage capacity of up to 50GB and are designed to store both a standard DVD movie and a high-definition movie in different layers on the same side of a disc. HD DVD stores up to 45GB and allows manufacturers to put a standard DVD on one side of the disc, with a high-definition version on the other side.

This approach would allow manufacturers to reuse much of their current manufacturing equipment, making manufacturing far cheaper, according to supporters. It should also make players simpler and less bulky.

Samsung has said it will produce a dual-standard player in 2006 if no unified standard has been created.

Analysts estimate the industry could lose billions of dollars a year if next-generation DVD players launch supporting rival, incompatible formats.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.