HP request to Blu-ray may have upset Warner Bros.' plans to shift camps

Hollywood (California) - According to the entertainment industry trade publication Variety, Warner Bros. - perhaps the most prominent studio currently supporting HD DVD as the next-generation videodisc format - had plans to announce this morning that it would join Paramount in backing the release of titles for both HD DVD and Blu-ray, the competing format.

But Hewlett-Packard's unexpected reversal of its public stance on Blu-ray protection features, which we reported on yesterday, may have upset Warner's plans. HP is a prominent Blu-ray supporter, and would seemingly have benefited from such a move by Warner. According to Variety, the Blu-ray Disc Association voted late yesterday afternoon, West Coast time, to support measures advocated by Warner to add new and more restrictive copy protection features, in addition to the trio of protection features it already contains. The vote was reportedly to appease Warner's request, and enable it to endorse Blu-ray. The specific terms and subject of Warner's reported request are unknown.

Just a few hours prior, HP issued a press release calling for the BDA to adopt two features already supported by HD DVD, including a much more consumer-friendly approach to copy protection called mandatory managed copy. The "mandatory" part serves as a guarantee that individuals will be able to make backup copies of any legally-obtained, licensed media, either to separate discs or to hard disk. The copy would retain DRM measures that would prevent its use by other viewers on other equipment.

Movie studio 20th Century-Fox, another prominent Blu-ray supporter, is on record as opposing mandatory managed copy; and up until yesterday, HP cited Fox's stance almost verbatim, saying that studios should have the right to determine which movies viewers can copy, and which ones they cannot.

In a bold statement to Reuters late yesterday evening, HP's general manager of personal storage for the Personal Systems Group, Maureen Weber, stated, "We're still supporting Blu-ray but we're very serious that we want these technologies. If in the end, they're supported in one and then not the other, we'll have to make a choice."

If Variety's report is accurate, HP's last-minute ultimatum may have been to prevent Blu-ray from adopting even more copy protection technologies, that conceivably may have restricted computer users' ability to play back and manage high-definition videos. It may have worked, as the morning has come and gone, and Warner Bros. has yet to issue the anticipated press release, which entertainment industry reporters may have been alerted was to have come this morning.

A representative of the Blu-ray Disc Association told TG Daily this afternoon, "We consider HP to be a strong and valued proponent of the Blu-ray Disc format. The BDA Board of Directors always considers the opinions of its members to be very valuable. We are confident that our current momentum will lead to the successful launch of the format."

TG Daily has contacted representatives of Warner Home Entertainment, and has been told to expect a response later today by phone, though not an official press statement.

Earlier this morning, Intel - whose arguments in favor of mandatory managed copy and iHD, along with Microsoft's, apparently won the day yesterday - issued a brief statement, saying the company "continues to work to align respective computing, CE and content provider companies around key specifications and formats to best architect the digital home. This includes consumer-friendly DVD features such as 'Managed Copy,' interactivity capabilities, and formats for notebook PCs."