Next Gen DVD already?
The format evolution is obviously a way to get consumers to buy, buy, buy....
High-definition DVD format divides industry into rival camps
By Junko Yoshida and Yoshiko Hara
(11/14/2003 10:00 AM EST)
There is division in the ranks of the DVD Forum, whose steering committee will meet in New York next week to vote on a next-generation optical disk format.
Sixty companies took part in the forum's technical working group to develop the high-definition (HD-DVD) format, and some of them are also members of the opposing Blu-ray Disc ROM (BD-ROM) camp. Blu-ray was developed by 10 powerful consumer electronics companies, including Hitachi, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony. All 10 are members of the DVD Forum's steering committee.
Efforts to control the next-generation format have split the consumer electronics industry in two, and the stakes are high. The format that the market eventually embraces is expected to give consumer electronics manufacturers control over the technology that underlies upcoming DVD systems, and to protect them from the price deterioration now besetting DVD players made largely by Chinese OEMs. Next-generation systems promise to deliver a high-definition movie on a single disk, and are expected to build momentum for HDTV-set sales.
Some industry observers believe that HD-DVD could provide a smooth, seamless transition from the current standard-definition DVD to high-definition, but they also acknowledge the proposal faces a battle. The HD-DVD camp is hoping to commercialize its products in time for Christmas 2004. BD-ROM proponents plan to introduce their high-definition optical disk player, which will not be compatible with the DVD Forum's specification, in late 2005.
While the DVD Forum's technical working groups have already completed round-robin verification tests and approved the HD-DVD spec, it still awaits the steering committee's final approval. The spec to be voted on this week includes four high-efficiency codecs: H.264, Windows Media9, MPEG-2 or a hybrid of MPEG-2, and H.264. It also specifies a blue-laser diode technology. The proposal is based on Advanced Optical Disc (AOD) technology co-developed by Toshiba and NEC as a successor to the current DVD specification.
Designed to maintain full backward compatibility with current DVD disks, AOD adopts the same bonded-disk structure as the red-laser DVD current systems now in use, including the same thickness of the substrate disk and the same process for replication. But the data capacity is increased three to six times in order to store a high-definition movie, according to HD-DVD proponents.
AOD's disk capacity is 15Gbytes for a single-layer ROM disk, 30Gbytes for a dual-layer disk, and 20Gbytes for a single-layer rewritable disk. The dual-layer rewritable disk is provisionally defined as 35 to 40Gbytes. The other camp
The opposing Blu-ray group, meanwhile, is gearing up for the completion of its BD-ROM version 0.9 spec by the end of this year, with its 1.0 spec"the group's first public release of its specification"scheduled in the first quarter of 2004, said Michael Fidler, senior vice president of Sony Corp. of America's Blu-ray Disc Group Division.
The Blu-ray group plans to make a big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January with a split-screen public demonstration of DVD vs. BD-ROM, Fidler said.
In contrast to the HD-DVD proposal, BD-ROM rejects the use of a new video compression format and sticks with the same audio/video codecs, such as MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital, that are specified by the U.S. digital HDTV system. While HD-DVD depends on advanced signal processing to increase disk capacity, the BD-ROM format relies on a newly designed optical disk format and cutting-edge optical pickup to attain a similar goal.
With its beam spot area reduced to one-fifth that of today's DVD technology, the BD-ROM claims 25Gbyte capacity per single-layer ROM and 50Gbytes on a dual-layer BD-ROM disk.
Aside from working on the 0.9 spec, the BD-ROM proponents appear to be doing their best to make the DVD Forum's HD-DVD-related activities irrelevant. With all 10 of Blu-ray's founding members retaining their seats on the DVD Forum's 17-member steering committee, Blu-ray backers either voted "no" or abstained on the HD-DVD proposal at a June meeting.
The six companies that voted "yes" included IBM, Intel, NEC, Time Warner, and Toshiba. Because a majority of eight steering committee members abstained, the HD-DVD proposal will be voted on again this week. To remedy the lopsided membership, the DVD Forum has invited three more companies to join the steering committee. Its deadline for self-nomination was Nov. 7.
Blu-ray's activities within the steering committee have resulted in some criticism of the group.
"The Blu-ray camp has its rights to choose to work outside the DVD Forum," said one executive in Hollywood who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But I think they have crossed the line by keeping their seats on the forum's steering committee with no genuine desire to cooperate with the forum. They are there to interfere with AOD and suppress their competitors."
But many in the Blu-ray camp don't believe that there is any conflict of interest. Sony's Fidler made it clear that Blu-ray backers "believed in the need for a new organization outside the DVD Forum due to the new technologies the [BD-ROM] format adopted, including a new physical-disk format and laser technology."
Fidler said that the proposed HD-DVD format lacks "wow factors," while BD-ROM boasts a new copy protection scheme currently in development by Matsushita, Philips, and Sony; a Java programming environment; better navigation and graphics capabilities; Internet connectivity integrated into a BD-ROM player for downloading additional materials, including subtitles for foreign language content; and plenty of room for data storage.
The HD-DVD camp, meanwhile, cites the advantages of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach.
"Our basic position is to create an HD-DVD format best suited for current DVD customers," said Hisashi Yamada, a fellow and technology officer at Toshiba Corp.'s Digital Media Network Co. "We really want to keep compatibility with current DVD, while realizing enough capacity for future applications."