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Sony has won Disney's support for its Blu-ray Disc (BD) hi-definition video optical format.

Disney's home video operation, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, said it will ship "popular new releases and classic pictures" on BD when suitable "hardware launches in the North America and Japan". This is expected to take place in a year or so.

Buena Vista issues pre-recorded content under a variety of labels, including Walt Disney Home Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures Home Video, Touchstone Home Entertainment, Miramax Home Entertainment, Dimension Home Video and Disney DVD.

However, while its parent, the Walt Disney Company is to take a seat on the Blu-ray Disc Association's board, Buena Vista said the decision to release product on BD is not exclusive. This pavies the way for parallel releases on HD DVD while the market decides which format - in the pre-recorded content market, at least - will prevail.

Last month, Toshiba, co-developer and arch-evangelist of the HD DVD format, announced four major home video companies had agreed to back the next-generation DVD. Warner, Paramount, Universal and New Line Cinema will offer movies on HD DVD. Again, such releases are around a year away.

The four studios account for 45 per cent of the US retail DVD market. But Buena Vista accounts for a fair chunk too - around 20 per cent of the total. In 2003, it jostled with Warner for market leadership and was claimed five of the year's top ten DVD releases.

BD and HD DVD boost the capacity of the 12cm disc by using a blue laser to read the data off the carrier rather than the red laser used in today's DVD systems. The shorter wavelength of blue light means that the 'spots' on the disc's surface, used to encode digital data, can be smaller. Smaller spots means more of them in a given area - a higher capacity, in other words. And, as some observers have pointed out, a greater risk that scratches and marks will spoil playback.

Blu-ray wins on the capacity front, offering 25GB on a single-layer disc to HD DVD's 20GB and a more aggressive roadmap to increase capacity. The downside is the need for entirely new disc production lines. HD DVD, by contrast, calls for existing DVD pressing rigs to be retooled rather than replaced. It also has the strength of the DVD brand, which has been very strongly pushed to consumers over the last seven years or so.

Toshiba this week announced a hybrid disc containing HD and regular DVD content, making it capable of working in today's DVD players and tomorrow's HD DVD units. ®

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