NAB 2005: Blu-Ray/HD-DVD Compromise Rumored To Be In The Works

NAB 2005: The big news from this year’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention isn’t on the show floor, but behind the scenes. After weeks of speculation in the industry, word is starting to leak out that the proponents of the next-generation Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats are working out a unified High Storage, High Resolution Video Disc format. If the compromise comes to pass, it will be very similar to what happened prior to the release of the DVD disc.

DVD Video: Product of A Grand Compromise
In the case of DVD, the backers of two different optical Digital Video Disc format proposals pooled their technologies and developed one format for Digital Video. A key piece of the compromise was the use of technologies from backers of each format proposal, enabling both camps to enjoy licensing and intellectual property (IP) royalties from the maufacture of DVD discs and playback equipment. If this week’s rumors are correct, it sounds like history may repeat itself soon.

New Sony CEO Talks Up Compromise
Stories about the NAB 2005 show from several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and EE Times, indicate that the proposals for the development of one format has been spurred by the recent promotion of Howard Stringer to the top job at Sony Corporation. Stringer is well known in media circles from his days heading up CBS and he has publicly talked up the need to bring together the warring Blu-Ray and HD-DVD camps in recent months, prior to his appointment as Sony’s CEO.

The story in today’s edition of EE Times was particularly intriguing. It noted that “According to sources close to the DVD Forum and the Blu-ray Disc Association, the groups are on the verge of agreeing on a higher-level protocol and interactive layers as well as the physical formats of the incompatible standards. Both unification proposals also try to address the fact that some of the big studios have conflicting requirements. Warner Brothers is said to want the lowest cost media, while The Walt Disney Co. is said to prefer the standard with the highest capacity.”

A Change In Direction from CES
The new talk about a unified format comes as a turnaround from what we heard earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. (See linked report below). During CES each format touted its benefits and licensees – over 40 for HD-DVD and almost 100 for Blu-Ray disc at that time.

At CES, HD-DVD developer Toshiba touted the lower cost of their HD-DVD format and chided developers of the Blu-Ray disc for emphasizing large storage capacity for PC applications that Toshiba officials felt could be better addressed through micro hard disk technology. Blu-Ray advocates from Pioneer and Panasonic countered that to go with HD-DVD would mean compromising the potential of the new medium – especially when it comes to interactive capabilities and rich media releases including games, computer applications and movies.

The Need for Compatibility with DVD Video
Interestingly, even though both camps have up until now suggested that the best outcome would be for their format to “win” vs. a compromise format, neither has taken that approach with DVD Video. Indeed, at CES 2005 we saw both hybrid Blu-Ray/DVD Video and HD-DVD/DVD Video disc options shown as a way to offer consumer and media store owners the chance to stock and buy one disc that would serve both DVD Video and next generation Video player owners in the short term – during a format transition away from today’s DVD Video disc.

What’s Next?
We’ll certainly keep an eye on the developments surrounding the talks and proposals surrounding a Blu-Ray/HD-DVD compromise. It could be the best way to see this next generation technology succeed in the market.

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