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Toshiba, Sony fail to agree - again

Two-format future forecast

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Toshiba and Sony this week as near as makes no odds confirmed there is no chance their rival blue-laser optical disc formats will be combined into a single offering.

The two companies' presidents, along with the head of Matsushita, met this week to see if they could thrash out a solution to stalled negotiations on bringing Toshiba's HD DVD and Sony's Blu-ray Disc formats together.

However, all three executives appear to have taken much the same line chosen by their underlings. In essence, each told the others to abandon their preferred format and embrace the other.

Sony's Ken Kutaragi told reporters in Japan today that "the only hope [of getting a uniform disc] is if we can reach an agreement in a week or two on a new format that is not that different from Blu-ray physically".

There lies the rub. HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, despite using comparable laser wavelengths to increase the capacity of an 12cm optical disc, have different physical disc structures. That's what gives Blu-ray the higher capacity, and makes it possible to produce HD DVDs with existing DVD pressing equipment, albeit with some modifications.

Toshiba President Tadashi Okamura took a more gloomy view: "We may actually have a situation where merchandise from both sides is put on store shelves," he said, according to Reuters. "But the market would not allow that situation to last very long."

Not necessarily. The real problem will twin formats is the content industry, which doesn't want to have to offer the same movie, music album or whatever in different formats. Not that that stopped it continuing to offer vinyl, cassette and MiniDisc content long after CD become the dominant format, of course.

Standardisation makes for lower production costs - though, as we saw with CD, not always lower prices for consumers - but multiple formats don't necessarily mean prices will remain high.

And there is room for both, as pre-recorded formats and future recordable/rewriteable media. The battle over recordable and rewriteable DVD formats doesn't appear to have hindered the market, and as we've seen there, disparate formats will eventually be united in drives that support them all. ®

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