Both high-def disc formats debate tech issues as HD DVD faces new delays

Los Angeles (CA) - Technical issues that may concern the arrangement of content of both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, are impacting studios supporting both formats, with the result being that HD DVD titles - which were due to be released sooner - could face delays. News of such delays comes from an official of Warner Home Video, in a Hollywood Reporter story picked up by Reuters this morning.

These delays come as major retailers prepare for a spring rollout of HD DVD, which was supposed to include a whirlwind tour of the US by Toshiba representatives. Now, Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart and other stores nationwide may face the prospect of having to premiere Toshiba's HD-A1 ($499) and HD-XA1 ($799) players without any movies available to sell with them.

The precise nature of the technical problems facing Warner were not disclosed, perhaps because the question itself may not have been asked. TG Daily has contacted spokespersons for Warner Home Video, and as the day is young, may yet get a response. However, at the same time and perhaps not by coincidence, technical concerns about the implementation of a key feature of the Advanced Access Copy System (AACS), which will play a role in the copy protection schemes of both Blu-ray and HD DVD, have provoked studios to abandon their support for this feature. On 1 March, at a technology forum it sponsored, Sony announced it had no plans to utilize, in its Blu-ray movies, the so-called Image Constraint Token (ICT), which would force analog displays to accept downconverted video at 540 lines of resolution. 20th Century-Fox had already expressed its opposition to using ICT for its Blu-ray titles. But since that time, Paramount and Disney stated they are joining Sony and Fox in opposing ICT in Blu-ray titles, according to a Consumer Electronics Daily journalist writing for the AVS Forum.

The move by Disney and Paramount came as a complete surprise to video industry observers, who had noted they had previously stood with Warner in support of ICT. The argument in favor of ICT is that it would disable intermediate devices from being able to siphon a digital stream from a home entertainment network, presumably to make copies of that stream, in its native resolution. But opponents had noted that first-generation HDTV players, with 720 lines of analog resolution, would be forced to view degraded images, with only slightly higher resolution than standard television.

Fox, a vocal advocate of standards in digital media but a late Blu-ray supporter, went on record early in opposition to ICT, stating its opinion that consumers' experience should not be downgraded, even in the interests of preventing piracy. Its message may be winning over supporters; but it's interesting to note that, for now, opposition to ICT appears to be centered on its implementation in Blu-ray. Sony and Fox have been firmly in the Blu-ray camp for some time; Paramount opted to support both formats last October, with Disney announcing its additional support for HD DVD only yesterday. Universal, a firm HD DVD proponent, has signaled its support of ICT in the past. This leaves Warner, which also joined the Blu-ray Disc Association last October after having been a firm HD DVD proponent, as the remaining major studio not to revise and extend its public stand on ICT.

Up to this point, with Blu-ray movie titles expected to be released in the fall while HD DVDs premiere this spring, there hasn't been time for studios to debate the issue of how the just-completed 1.0 specification for AACS, apparently including ICT, would impact HD DVD. While studios with Blu-ray titles in the works still have time to make a stand, perhaps the only way for HD DVD-supporting studios to have time to revisit the issue is if it becomes, if you will, a technical concern likely to postpone release dates.