HD-DVD set for 2005 launch

Toshiba and NEC plan to launch compatible High Definition/High Density-DVD (HD-DVD) products in 2005. A major Japanese content producer is also backing next-generation optical disc format.

Toshiba plans to launch a home player and a recorder, while NEC said it plans to debut a drive for use with computers.

The promotional effort aims to push HD-DVD toward victory in what has been, until now, a one-sided race to become the format of choice for high-definition video content.

To date, HD-DVD demonstrations have been confined to prototype models at technical seminars and some events. In contrast, recorders based on the competing Blu-ray Disc are already on the market. Sony commercialized the first in 2003 and Matsushita Electric Industrial, Panasonic's parent company, put the second Blue-ray Disc product on sale in Japan last weekend.

The HD-DVD group, which is mainly led by Toshiba and NEC, is using the technological differences between the two formats as the basis for its argument that HD-DVD makes more sense than Blu-ray Disc.

Both sides in the format battle know that without the support of movie studios and entertainment companies their respective formats won't survive.

Because HD-DVD discs are almost physically identical to current DVDs, the same production lines can be used to produce both discs, thus saving the expense of building new factories, said Masato Ootsuka, senior manager of the engineering development department at optical disc maker Memory-Tech.

A pilot line at the company’s factory in Tsukuba, north of Tokyo, can be switched between DVD and HD-DVD in five minutes, and production of a dual-layer 30GB HD-DVD disc takes 3.5 seconds, compared to three seconds for a DVD, Ootsuka said. Yields are also above 90 percent.

The companies said hardware will also be cheaper to make because its closeness to DVD means it is less complicated.

The group is also pushing the message that, while HD-DVD offers a lower data storage capacity than Blu-ray Disc, HD-DVD can store more high-definition programming. That’s because it uses the MPEG-4 AVC and VC9 codecs, the former based on the H.264 codec and the latter on Microsoft’s Windows Media 9 codec.

One stumbling block to widespread support is the lack of a strong copy protection and digital rights management system. However this work is underway and details are expected to be published soon, Yajima said.

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