A group of companies led by the Toshiba Corp made a major advance in the effort to define a new DVD standard as Paramount and three other Hollywood studios announced on Monday that they would release films in the group's high-definition DVD format by the end of next year.
The decision by the studios to support the so-called HD DVD format is a setback for a rival group of developers, led by the Sony Corp, and its so-called Blu-ray technology for playing and recording DVDs. Obtaining pledges from studios to make movies available in the new format is considered a crucial step toward establishing it as an industry standard and securing billions of dollars in licensing fees and hardware sales for its creators.
In addition to Viacom's Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros Studios and New Line Cinema also said they would release titles in the HD DVD format, which its creators promise will offer sharper images and more of the interactive features that have helped make DVDs popular. Warner Bros and New Line are divisions of Time Warner, and Universal is a unit of the General Electric Co.
Executives from Toshiba and the NEC Corp, which is also developing HD DVD, said they believed that the pledge of support from the studios would give their technology a strong push. Together, the four studios accounted for about 45 percent of prerecorded DVD sales in the US in the first half of this year, Toshiba said.
"I've heard the opinion from many people in Hollywood that a single format would be best for consumers," Yoshihide Fujii, a senior vice president at Toshiba, said in Tokyo.
Toshiba plans to begin selling HD DVD players by the end of next year at below US$1,000, he said.
Monday's announcement came as the momentum in the standards fight seemed to be shifting in Sony's favor. In September, Sony announced that it was leading a group of investors to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a move that many analysts predicted would greatly increase the odds that MGM would sign on as a supporter of the Blu-ray technology.
And last month, the News Corp's 20th Century Fox unit said it was joining a Blu-ray developers group, the first studio to do so. Still, neither MGM nor Fox has committed to making movies available in the Blu-ray format.
A Sony spokesman said that despite Monday's setback, the company remained confident that its technology would win out.
"Blu-ray is a superior format from a technological point of view," said spokesman Taro Takamine. "We need to continue our efforts to get more support for Blu-ray."
And to be sure, the commitments from the four studios to make HD DVDs do not prevent them from also releasing titles using the Blu-ray format. Pony Canyon, Japan's largest distributor of prerecorded DVDs, for example, plans to release titles in both formats, according to spokesmen for Toshiba and Sony.
Each of the two competing technologies uses a blue laser, rather than the red laser that is now used to play CDs and DVDs. The blue laser is finer and can read data that is packed more tightly on a disc. A single-layer HD DVD disc will be able to hold 15 gigabytes of data, while a Blu-ray disc promises to hold 25 gigabytes. That compares with 4.7 gigabytes on traditional DVDs. Either of the new technologies would allow users to record a full-length film in high-definition video on a single disc.