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Toshiba Bows HD Hybrid Disc

10 May, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As talk continues to emanate from Japan about a possible compromise between the two rival next-gen optical disc camps, Toshiba Corp. has official announced a hybrid disc with DVD on one side and HD DVD on the other. Word of the hybrid surfaced in late April (HMR, April 24 - 30, 2005).

Toshiba is the developer and leading proponent of HD DVD, which is vying with Sony's Blu-ray Disc to become the next-generation standard. Toshiba also has announced a new triple-layer HD DVD-ROM disc with nearly as much capacity as Blu-ray.

But it's the hybrid that's become the talk of Hollywood. The double-sided, double-layer ROM disc, which can store 8.5 GB of standard DVD content on one side and 30 GB of HD content on the other, was immediately endorsed by three of the six major studios, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment.

Universal president Craig Kornblau, who already has promised to release several titles on HD DVD in the fall, called the new hybrid “a wonderful transitional tool.”

“Here's the opportunity to buy a hybrid that you can put in your new HD DVD player and it will play, and yet it also will play in your existing DVD player in your home, your car, or on your laptop,” Kornblau said. “You've got one disc that will play everywhere, and from a studio standpoint it's a real breakthrough.”

Kornblau said that in a preliminary national survey of adults who are active DVD buyers and who already own a high-definition TV set, more than 50 percent “would buy a higher-priced hybrid, because it provides more value than an HD DVD disc alone.”

Warner EVP and GM Marsha King cited preliminary Warner research that shows 77 percent of consumers would be interested in buying a hybrid disc. Among consumers who plan on buying HDTVs sometime in the next year, that interest level increases to 89 percent.

“HD DVD now provides a superb range of real-world consumer solutions, allowing the accommodation of two generations of content—standard definition and HD DVD—on a single disc,” King said in a statement.

The new hybrid is scheduled to be unveiled May 11 at Media-Tech Expo 2005 in Las Vegas, the leading annual trade show for the optical disc manufacturing industry.

“Our intent, first and foremost, is to enable the HD DVD format to help us get from today's DVD to tomorrow's HD DVD,” said Toshiba DVD advisor Mark Knox. “That's a big studio concern, retailer concern and, most importantly, consumer concern. Even if you don't get have an HD DVD player, you can use it as soon as you get it home.”

Attendees of the trade show also will get a first look at Toshiba's new triple-layer HD DVD-ROM, which boasts a data capacity of 45 GB, 50 percent more than the 30-GB dual-layer HD-DVD-ROM disc already announced and nearly as much as the 50-GB Blu-ray Disc.

That's enough for 12 hours of HD programming. “As a content holder, if we need it it's there,” Kornblau said.

“We're ready to explore a whole bunch of new creative possibilities, because 45 GB is a lot of space,” Knox added.

Memory-Tech Corp., Japan's largest independent disc replicator, has confirmed both new discs can be produced on existing manufacturing lines and equipment, with only minor additional investment and minimum additional production cost per disc.

One of the HD DVD camp's biggest arguments in its efforts to sway Hollywood studios to support its format rather than Blu-ray is cheaper manufacturing costs. HD DVD backers say Blu-ray, in contrast, would require all-new equipment and cost studios at least another 25 cents per disc, a claim the Blu-ray side disputes.

Meanwhile, a Japanese newspaper reports Sony and Toshiba are close to finalizing a plan to develop a common standard, using Sony's technology for recording information onto an optical disc. Toshiba, in turn, would supply software that would handle efficient data transfer and copyright protection.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports a detailed plan could be unveiled before a meeting of next-gen manufacturers scheduled for May 16.

The report was immediately followed by a strongly worded statement from Toshiba, denying any agreement using the Sony platform was in the works. “The indication that a unification agreement on the basis of a 0.1 millimeter [Blu-ray] disc is imminent,” the statement said, “is unfounded and erroneous.”

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