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The Road to a High-Def Compromise Is Not Without Obstacles

23 Apr, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Wow. Could it be true? Are the powers that be finally coming to their senses? I’m heartened to hear that at long last there’s talk of a compromise between the two competing next-generation optical-disc formats.

A Financial Times report indicates the quest for a unified format is now on the front burner at both Sony and Toshiba, the two principals behind the rival Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats. The latest, as of Friday afternoon, is that an end to the standoff could come as early as next week.

I’ve railed about the lack of a unified format for quite some time, as regular readers of this column know. In fact, I’m doing a little back patting, because in the press release for our upcoming Fourth Annual Home Entertainment Summit, which I wrote more than a week ago, I specifically said the focus will be a next-generation super session at which attendees may get one of the first public looks at a unified format.

Several callers, including one top industry insider, promptly chastised me. “There won’t be a compromise,” this person said.

Well, it now appears there will be, although I take issue with all the news reports that hint at a merger between the two technologies.

Sorry, folks, but Blu-ray and HD DVD are completely incompatible, technologically speaking. While both use blue-laser light, the inner workings and the actual discs are completely different — so without getting into a bunch of techno mumble-speak, merging the two formats simply isn’t possible.

Any compromise is going to have to come on the business end, with each party having to give up some piece of the action. We’re either going to see Blu-ray or HD DVD emerge as the standard, with Sony or Toshiba giving up something in return.

Then again, maybe both sides will head back to the drawing board to cherry pick the best attributes from either side — maybe Blu-ray’s capacity and HD DVD’s simplicity — and then patch together a new, completely different high-def format.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. While talk of a compromise, of an end to the standoff, is growing louder and louder, the mere fact that it has taken this long to even bring both sides to the table makes me a little wary.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

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