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Warner to back a single HD disc format?

Sony, Toshiba eager to get it off the fence

Warner Home Video, the only major content distributor supporting both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, is rumoured to be about to put its full weight behind one of these next-gen optical disc formats, a senior studio exec has claimed.

Cue Michael Burns, vice-chairman of Lionsgate - a Blu-ray Disc backer, it should be noted - quoted by BusinessWeek as saying: "The rumor is that Warner is coming aboard soon... That will make it awfully tough for HD DVD to stay in this game."

The magazine admits Warner is keeping its lips sealed on the matter, but the report cites insiders who maintain that the company wants to see which of the two formats shifts the most units during the current Thanksgiving-Christmas sales period.

If that's the case, it suggests that Warner at the very least believes it's time to hop off the fence and support one format or the other. Paramount and partner DreamWorks Animation did, opting for HD DVD apparently on the back of $150m paid by Toshiba to the rights to use Shrek to market the format.

It can't have failed to have crossed the minds of Warner execs that now their company is the only one supporting both formats, it would be a major win for either Blu-ray or HD DVD to sign it up as an exclusive partner.

Undoubtedly, both camps are trying to persuade Warner to the true faith, and the report's sources say senior figures from Toshiba and Sony have been visiting and calling Warner bosses on a regular basis since the Paramount deal was announced.

Next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas would be the ideal platform for Warner to announce such a move - whichever format it chooses to back. At this year's CES, it announced Total HD, its solution to the format war, though it's now shelved the project for a lack of broader industry support. Having failed to convert any other studio to a multi-format future, Warner may well have concluded the time has come for it to cast its lot.

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