Intel & Microsoft endorse HD DVD

Intel and Microsoft are combining their computing industry power in an attempt to make the HD DVD format the victor in a battle over a standard to succeed DVD.

Typical DVDs today can hold 4.7GB of information, but two dueling camps are trying to establish a larger-capacity format that will be allow for the recording of high-definition television and the backing up of more data. HD DVD, supported by a Toshiba-led consortium, is up against Blu-ray Disc, backed by Sony and allies including the two biggest personal computer manufacturers, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

Intel and Microsoft believe weighing in on the HD DVD side will be enough to tip the balance. “We have a high expectation of having a single format, and that format is HD DVD,” said Intel spokesman Bill Kircos. There are several reasons the two companies went with HD DVD, said Richard Doherty, Microsoft’s program manager for media entertainment convergence. Among them: HD DVD requires that movies may be copied to a consumer’s hard drive, making it easier for people to send movies around home networks; HD DVD supports regular DVD recordings on the flip side of the disc, letting people sell hybrid discs to consumers who have DVD players today but fear their discs will be obsolete; and HD DVD offers more capacity.

The Blu-ray allies completely disagree. “This announcement does little to shift the momentum that’s been building for Blu-ray Disc,” said Marty Gordon, vice president of Blu-ray backer Philips Electrics. “It has dramatically more support from the consumer electronics industry, the PC manufacturers and the games hardware manufacturing side, as well as strong support form movie studios, music companies and game software developers.”

Blu-ray allies expect to launch their products in the spring, Gordon said, including support for both 25GB and dual-layer 50GB. HD DVD starts at 15GB, but Toshiba announced a 30GB dual-layer disc last week. Toshiba plans to launch the first HD DVD drives in Japan this year and worldwide in the first quarter of 2006, Doherty said.

The two camps have held talks to unify their formats, but so far to no avail, and time is running short, with products from both camps scheduled to ship in the next few months.

If the sides don’t come together, a host of problems ensue: Consumers will have to make sure a rented movie or purchased video game is compatible with their drives and players; movie studios, video game manufacturers and video rental stores will have to stock multiple versions of movies; dual-format drives that bridge the format gap will cost more; and neither standard is likely to catch on as fast as if the industry had coalesced.

It’s similar to the classic format war, VHS vs. Beta in videotape, combined with the smaller DVD-RW vs. DVD+RW skirmish that broke out more recently for rewritable DVDs.

Even at this late stage, it’s possible there could be a resolution. “We’re very hopeful you could see a unified standard,” Gordon said. “It has to be a format that offers the best of both worlds,” though, and the Blu-ray camp isn’t willing to yield on the capacity issue.

Microsoft also hoped for a resolution, but didn’t see one as likely. “We’re of the opinion that a unified format would be far preferable. But what was keeping us from the game was our hope for a long time for that to occur,” Doherty said.

Gordon said that several of the advantages Microsoft and Intel cite for HD DVD aren’t valid. In particular, he said 50GB Blu-ray drives are scheduled to ship this spring, with much more capacity than HD DVD’s 30GB, and though, he said, there has been no announcement of a managed copy feature that permits movies to be transferred to hard drives, it isn’t “a key differentiating feature.”

Both sides have support from major computing, consumer electronics and entertainment companies. Blu-ray allies include Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Apple Computer, Vivendi Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney, Electronic Arts, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp and Sun Microsystems. HD DVD backers include Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, Paramount Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, HBO and New Line Cinema.

The divide splits Intel and Microsoft from some of their biggest customers, though. Dell couldn’t be reached for comment immediately, but HP isn’t changing course.


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