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DVD formats set for grand clash

A war that has been brewing for years looks set to break out in with the release of the 2 new DVD formats.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 11:24 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

A war that has been brewing for three years looks set to break out in earnest this year with the release of the first commercial players of the two new competing formats for watching movies at home - HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

The manufacturers behind the two formats have come under scrutiny at the CeBIT trade show in Germany this month after several false starts. Both camps unveiled in January what they said were saleable players at the US Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Just recently though it has become plain that a key part of the software - the copy protection - is still not ready. Without copy protection, the big movie studios may refuse to release titles on the new discs.

While both HD-DVD and Blu-ray are likely to be useful to computer owners for data storage, the main use of the discs will be for selling movies in superb, high-definition quality that will make existing DVDs look grainy by comparison.

Outwardly, the discs resemble both CD-ROMs and DVDs but need blue laser light to "read" information from pits etched into the surface.

CD-ROMs were conceived to hold 0.7 gigabytes of data and DVDs for 4.7 gigabytes (GB) on the original single layer. In comparison, high-density DVD or HD-DVD can hold 15 GB and Blu-ray discs 25 GB.

It might require 50 GB to store a full-length feature film at top quality. There are now triple-layer, 45-GB HD-DVD discs. Blu-ray manages discs with two layers and a capacity of 50 GB.

The essential difference between the two technologies is that Blu-ray requires all-new recording machinery whereas pre-recorded HD-DVDs can be made with existing DVD manufacturing machines.

HD-DVD originally looked likely to make it on to the US market first, but hit technical setbacks last year.

Blu-ray has won the support of major Hollywood studios but the Blu-ray camp is still troubled by the niggling worry that HD-DVD, backed by NEC and Toshiba of Japan, will win out by being cheaper.

In this scenario, early adopters shopping at appliance shops would plump for Blu-ray as the technically more advanced choice but big general retailers, including supermarket chains, will order millions of HD-DVD players because of their lower price.

The key obstacle to launch is a software specification known as Advanced Access Content System (AACS) that will prevent users making copies of movies to sell. The standard would allow one "mandatory managed copy" (MMC) in countries where private copying is a legal right.

An online connection will be required to check for rights to make a permitted copy.

According to Toshiba, a basic player will be available in the US in March for $500 and can be updated when the software is finalised. Warner, Paramount and Universal have recently said they will release HD-DVD movies starting at the end of March.

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 11:24 IST