Blu-ray / HD DVD battle plays out in real-time at Japan trade show

Chiba (Japan) - The news from the first day of events at the annual CEATEC electronics show makes it clear that manufacturers and software vendors are preparing for the next round of the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc technologies to be played out in the marketplace, not the laboratory or the conference room.

In an effort to clarify his company's position on supporting HD DVD, following up on a joint announcement made with Microsoft last 26 September, Donald MacDonald, Intel's vice president and general manager for the Digital Home Group, was quoted by IDG News Service as saying that HD DVD proponents have announced their commitment to what is now being called "mandatory managed copy." The revised term apparently refers to a guarantee that individuals will be able to make personal backup copies of legally obtained content, either as backup discs or onto hard drives for streaming throughout network households. Home network streaming is a critical component of Intel's new Viiv technology initiative; for products to receive a Viiv logo, they must conform to minimum Intel requirements for home media functionality, home streaming being one of them.

Intel's change of phraseology may be in response to comments such as those featured yesterday in Tom's Hardware Guide by Blu-ray proponents such as HP engineer Josh Peterson, who denounced claims by Intel and Microsoft that the Blu-ray Disc Association has adopted an unclear position on managed copy. Peterson told us that Blu-ray had clearly supported managed copy from the beginning, but later added that copy protection systems such as AACS and BD+ would give content providers and studios the final word over whether some content could be copied. A mandatory managed copy system would apparently grant users the final word.

Later in the conference, BetaNews quotes MacDonald as saying that Intel will push the industry to come up with a single high-def disc standard, in order to avoid a format war that nobody wants.

The principle of a unified format is apparently pervasive during the first day of proceedings at CEATEC. Video playback software manufacturers InterVideo (an HD DVD supporter) and Ulead (a Blu-ray supporter) issued joint press releases and reportedly staged joint demonstrations of their latest high-def-supporting products for PCs, apparently in an attempt to model what can be achieved through unity.

Taking the focus away from the "match of the day," Sony Chairman Sir Howard Stringer, in his keynote address, characterized the future of his company as focused on PlayStation Portable, promising future fatter wireless pipelines, a higher-capacity memory stick, and synchronization with digital video recorders. Multiple reports from Chiba do not indicate Stringer mentioned Blu-ray at any point during his address.

Tomorrow at CEATEC, a representative from Microsoft is scheduled to join Toshiba Senior Vice President Hasashi Yamada, the company's lead representative to the HD DVD Promotions Group, plus representatives from Hitachi and NEC, in one of the first public sessions where Microsoft and Toshiba appear together in support of HD DVD. Later that same afternoon, Sony's Executive Senior Vice President, Kiyoshi Nishiya, will present a session entitled, "The Wonderful World Realized by the Blu-ray Disc," featuring representatives from Panasonic and 20th-Century Fox. In recent days, Fox has proven to be an outspoken proponent of the tripartite copy protection system adopted by Blu-ray, which may be swaying the opinions of other studios, such as Paramount, to at least support both formats.