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Microsoft, Intel Throw Support to HD DVD

29 Sep, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The announcement that Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. have joined the HD DVD Promotion Group is being portrayed as a monstrous victory by backers of the format. Even so, a day later came word that chief HD DVD architect Toshiba would delay its launch of a player in the United States until February or March.

The two giant computer firms announced that HD DVD “meets important criteria and delivers unique advantages, including PC and connected-device interoperability and an easy, affordable transition to high definition for consumers.”

The statement further indicated the companies believe HD DVD will get to market sooner and has greater potential for affordable, interactive devices.

Microsoft had announced in June that it would partner with Toshiba to create HD DVD players and computers, but at the time stopped short of supporting one format.

But any victory for what many now deem the underdog in the quest for a high-definition successor to DVD could ring hollow should Warner Home Video jump ship to the rival Blu-ray Disc, as is being widely speculated.

Warner, one of three studios that have vowed to support the HD DVD format with software, was conspicuously absent from a joint statement announcing the computer firms' move, which listed just Paramount and Universal as studio supporters.

Even if Warner stands by HD DVD, supporters of Blu-ray say Microsoft and Intel's support for HD DVD is a mere blip on the radar. They note that the two computer giants long had been rumored to join the HD DVD camp and that the momentum is still with Blu-ray.

“It's irrelevant,” said Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president Benjamin Feingold, one of the chief Hollywood backers of Blu-ray. “Neither of them make consumer electronics devices, and that's where the battle is going to be fought. And neither of these two companies has been an enormous proponent of packaged media, which is the bread and butter of Hollywood.”

Both HD DVD and the rival Blu-ray Disc hope to become the standard next-generation optical disc format.

The HD DVD camp is led by Toshiba, while Blu-ray Disc is championed by Sony. HD DVD is favored by the information technology industry, while Blu-ray has the majority of consumer electronics manufacturers behind it — all the big players, except for Toshiba, Sanyo and NEC. Blu-ray also has the support of Apple Computer Corp.

Each side has the backing of three of the six major studios. Sony Pictures, Disney and Fox have vowed software support for Blu-ray, while Paramount, Universal and Warner are backing HD DVD.

HD DVD had hoped to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, but tepid hardware and retail support prompted the three studios to postpone their first slate of movie and TV titles until next year.

Earlier this week, Toshiba announced that the hardware, initially due to launch in the fourth quarter, wouldn't come out until February or March of next year. Blu-ray supporters have cheered the pullback and declared the upper hand, particularly since Blu-ray technology will be incorporated into Sony's highly anticipated PlayStation 3 game console, set to launch in April.

HD DVD supporters had hoped their technology would be incorporated into Microsoft's upcoming Xbox 360, set to hit U.S. stores Nov. 22, but that's not going to happen.

The fact that Microsoft has joined the HD DVD Promotion Group, however, certainly bolsters speculation that HD DVD capability will be available at a later date, perhaps as an add-on.

The real boost for HD DVD, however, lies in the prospect that Microsoft and Intel will lay the groundwork for HD DVD discs to be viewed on computers. Sources predict Microsoft will incorporate HD DVD standards into the next Windows operating system, as well as Windows Media software, while Intel will likely make chips for companies that make HD DVD players.

Just as the studios are hedging their bets by promising “nonexclusive” support to their respective high-def formats of choice — meaning they could easily jump ship if one side appears to gain an overriding advantage — both Microsoft and Intel carefully couched their commitment to HD DVD.

In a joint statement, the companies announced their decision to support HD DVD was based primarily on the format's promise of an easier and cheaper transition from standard DVD. They particularly like the development of a hybrid disc with high-def content on one side and standard DVD on the other, which HD DVD backers cite as a useful bridge in getting consumers acquainted with the new format without having to buy two separate discs.

The companies also like the format's “Managed Copy,” a copy-once technology that lets users back up their digital media on their hard drives and play it on home networks or portable devices, and “superior” development possibility for portable computers.

Even so, Microsoft and Intel's commitment is not set in stone.

“Although the companies have determined that HD DVD is the only viable solution at this time,” the statement went on, “each remains committed to working toward one format that meets consumer and industry requirements.”

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