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Next-generation HD-DVD format adopted

The DVD Forum steering committee has approved version 1.0 of the physical specifications for HD-DVD read-only discs and voted to require that makers of HD-DVD video playback devices build in three video codecs, including the VC-9 technology used in Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9.

The decisions boost Microsoft’s efforts in the digital entertainment arena and also advance the HD-DVD technology developed by Toshiba and NEC. HD-DVDs use blue laser light to cram more information onto discs than red-laser DVDs. The technology is vying against the rival Blu-ray format backed by Sony and others, as well as a Chinese format called EVD.

Approval of version 1.0 of the HD-DVD physical specifications gives manufacturers a green light to begin producing devices, said Wolfgang Schlichting, an analyst with researcher IDC. But he said it's not clear if the HD-DVD format has an edge over the Blu-ray camp in the skirmish over formatting high-definition programming. In a contest that echoes the VHS-Betamax war over videotape standards, Schlichting said a key would be wooing content providers, especially movie studios.

The DVD Forum could give Microsoft credibility in pursuit of content as it shops its codec - compression-decompression algorithm - to partners outside the PC business, CNET reported.

In September 2003, Microsoft submitted VC-9 as a standards candidate to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers - a first for the company and a marked departure from its longtime commitment to keeping its technology proprietary.

In doing so, Microsoft set out to provide a viable successor to MPEG-2, a compression standard that is the foundation of satellite, cable, video editing systems and DVDs. Microsoft hopes that its technology will become de facto for a range of set-top boxes, professional video editing equipment, satellite transmissions and consumer electronics.

In addition to requiring the VC-9 codec when products are made to the HD-DVD video specification for playback devices, the DVD Forum steering committee also mandated the inclusion of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC (H.264). All three codecs have received a provisional nod from the forum in February, subject to conditions including an update of licensing terms and conditions.

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