DVD Forum punts blue laser HD-DVD

And Taiwan preps own hi-def video disc format

The DVD Forum has begun to promote its second-generation DVD specification to Taiwanese drive manufacturers.

The organisation, which oversees the DVD format, approved a blue laser-based format, to be called HD-DVD, last November. The technology came from Toshiba and NEC, rather than the Blu-ray format backed by Sony, Pioneer, Samsung, Matsushita Electric, Philips and others.

Unlike Blu-ray, the Toshiba/NEC system retains backwards compatibility with today's DVD specification, allowing HD-DVD machines to play older discs and ensuring disc manufacturers can more easily re-tool their production lines for the new format.

By contrast, Blu-ray requires all-new equipment. However, supporter companies are already offering Blu-ray machines. Sony shipped its pro-oriented rewriteable 23GB Professional Disc for Data (PDD) last December, and is preparing a second-generation 50GB consumer version which it will use in a TiVo-style personal video recorder later this year. Similar models from other Blu-ray supporters - most notably Philips and Matsushita/Panasonic - are expected this summer to coincide with the Olympic Games.

Blu-ray is primarily a recordable/rewriteable format, but the consortium behind it is working on a ROM version to be pitched perhaps as a DVD replacement. Sony's movie content division has said it will put out films on the so-called 'BD-ROM' format sometime next year.

HD-DVD, by contrast, was chosen as a ROM format first. However, last February, the DVD Forum approved the use of the Toshiba/NEC technology for rewriteable applications.

Building up momentum for the HD-DVD-RW spec. will be crucial if the Forum is to push past Blu-ray. Taiwanese drive and disc makers appear to be playing a waiting to game, to see if one format establishes itself as a market leader. Sources within that manufacturer community suggest that they don't expect to see such a leader emerge for three to five years.

In the meantime, they may pitch their own format. Earlier this month, the Taiwanese government's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) announced its Forward Versatile Disc (FVD) format, a tweaked version of the today's DVD technology which ups the capacity using a red laser.

FVD will provide 5.4GB of data on a single-layer disc and 9.8GB on a dual-layer unit, compared to 4.7GB and 8.5GB, respectively, for DVD. ITRI sees those figures increasing over time as second- and third-generation FVD discs are introduced.

ITRI has ties with the DVD Forum, and is thought to have submitted FVD to the organisation, possibly as an interim format bridging the gap between DVD and HD-DVD. The Forum has provisionally mandated the use of Microsoft's WMV 9 format alongside MPEG 2 as a HD-DVD video data format, and it FVD is expected to use WMV 9 too.

And don't forget China's Enhanced Video Disc (EVD), an attempt by the country to create an HD-capable disc format free of the restrictions - and, crucially, the costs - imposed on DVD licensees by the Forum. The format was launched last November.

Work on EVD has been going on since 1999 backed by state funding. EVD uses a video codec, VP6, from US-based developer On2, which offers "better image quality and faster decoding performance than Windows Media 9, Real 9, H.264 and QuickTime MPEG 4", the company claims. ®

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