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HP Asks Blu-ray to Include New Technical Standards

19 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Hewlett Packard, a major supporter of the Blu-ray Disc format, has issued a formal appeal to the Blu-ray Disc Association to include two new technologies, iHD and Managed Copy, as part of its format specifications.

Both technologies are already part of the specs for Toshiba's HD DVD format, which is vying with Sony's Blu-ray Disc to become the next-generation, high-definition optical disc standard.

Observers see HP's push to get the two technologies into Blu-ray as an attempt to sway computer giants Microsoft and Intel to switch support from HD DVD to Blu-ray Disc, which already has a clear advantage in the brewing next-generation format wars. Such a switch, observers say, would effectively knock HD DVD out of the game.

An official HP statement issued late today seems to support this notion.

“The move reflects HP's desire to ensure that customers are not forced to choose between competing HD formats for DVDs,” according to the statement.Blu-ray currently uses Sun Microsystems' Java software for built-in interactive features and has no Managed Copy technology.

When Microsoft and Intel last month announced their support of HD DVD, the format's use of iHD and Managed Copy were cited as key factors behind their decision.

Microsoft and Toshiba both worked on iHD, and Intel subsequently issued a statement in which it said it would be willing to support Blu-ray Disc if the format allowed consumers to copy content from discs onto home multimedia servers.In the statement, HP said it has “determined that Managed Copy and iHD will address the fundamental technical needs of the PC and help create a seamless experience throughout the digitally connected home.”

Managed Copy, which also is part of HD DVD's specs, allows consumers to make legitimate copies of their HD movies. “Making this feature mandatory will ensure a consistent consumer experience across all next-generation DVD content,” according to the HP statement.

HP also said iHD technology “provides a broad foundation to enable new interactivity with standards-based development tools and technologies. It will provide consumers with enhanced content, navigation and functionality for HD films.”

The computer maker further noted that Microsoft intends on implementing iHD support in its Windows Vista operating system, “which will help ease implementation and provide a cost-effective solution for consumers.”

Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, while incompatible with each other, already have a lot of similarities. Both are dye-based optical discs, similar in size to DVDs. Both are capable of holding more data than standard DVDs by relying on a blue-laser diode instead of a red laser. The blue laser has a shorter wavelength, which lets it read more data packed into a certain amount of space.

Both formats also use the same video compression schemes—MPEG-2, H.264, and VC-1—and could employ the same copy-protection technology, leaving the only key difference the thickness of protective substrate coating on the disc.Blu-ray can store more content because its substrate is only 0.1 mm thick, while the substrate on HD DVD, like current DVDs, is 0.6 mm thick. A thinner substrate lets the laser get closer to the data, which results in a smaller focus spot. Consequently, a dual-layer Blu-ray Disc has room for 50 GB of data (25 GB per side), while an HD DVD disc can only hold 30 GB of data (15 GB on each side).If HP is successful in getting Blu-ray to adopt both iHD and Managed Copy, the only difference would be the substrate—which sources say is the sole non-negotiable point.

Other than that, “we're very close to being a single product,” said one high-ranking studio executive familiar with negotiations between the two camps.With five of the six major studios now supporting Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD, with just three majors on its side, is clearly losing steam, observers say. Blu-ray also is favored by most consumer electronics manufacturers and computer makers, giving it an advantage in both software and hardware.

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