HD DVD Expands its Offerings

At the Media-Tech Expo in Las Vegas last week, Toshiba announced the development of a triple-layer HD DVD-ROM (read-only) disc with a data capacity of 45GB, which is enough to hold 12 hours of high-definition content on a single disc. The new disc joins the existing HD DVD lineup that includes 15GB (single-layer, single-sided) and 30GB (dual-layer, single-sided) versions.

Toshiba also announced a double-sided, dual-layer hybrid ROM disc comprised of a dual-layer HD DVD-ROM side and a dual-layer DVD-ROM side. The hybrid disc can store 30GB on the HD DVD-ROM side and 8.5GB on the DVD-ROM side, which allows the same content to be sold in both SD and HD formats on the same disc.

All versions of HD DVD-ROM discs share the same structure as today's DVDs: two 0.6mm-thick discs bonded back to back. Memory-Tech Corporation, Japan's largest independent disc replicator, has confirmed the new 45GB and hybrid discs can be produced on their existing manufacturing lines and equipment, which are tailored to produce HD DVD discs, with only minor additional investment and minimum additional production cost per disc.

One can't help wondering what these announcements mean to a possible compromise between HD DVD and Blu-ray, which has been in the news lately. Has Toshiba abandoned that path to dedicate itself solely to HD DVD? Or are they jockeying for a better position in the eventual consolidation of the two formats? Either way, we at UAV are concerned about multi-layer formats that could pause playback momentarily as the read head changes layers, like most current DVD players do with dual-layer discs. This is quite annoying, and it could be easily circumvented by including enough buffer memory in the player.

At the same time as these announcements, Warner Bros. and Universal Studios announced their support for the new discs. This is not surprising, since both studios have already pledged their support for HD DVD over Blu-ray, along with Paramount, New Line, and HBO.

According to Marsha King, EVP and general manager of Warner Home Video, "HD DVD now provides a superb range of real-world consumer solutions, allowing the accommodation of two generations of content—standard definition and HD DVD—on a single disc. The new suite of discs further broadens the spectrum of HD DVD products, continuing to address the need for lower cost and maximum consumer benefits while delivering various levels of capacity for content owners."

Preliminary Warner consumer research shows that interest in the hybrid disc is very high, with 77% of consumers being very interested in purchasing the hybrid HD DVD products. Among consumers who do not yet own an HDTV but intend to purchase one in the next 12 months, this interest increases to 89%.

Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE), echoed King's remarks, saying, "This impressive hybrid technology breakthrough by Toshiba allows consumers the unique experience of purchasing one disc that will play both on the new HD DVD player as well as on their current DVD device. The addition of the new versions to the HD DVD disc lineup will allow USHE to further broaden its market potential by providing a wider variety of HD content for future generations of consumers as well as encouraging current DVD owners to transition to the HD format."

One interesting wrinkle crops up if you follow the corporate genealogy. Universal Studios Home Entertainment is a unit of Universal Pictures, which is a division of Universal Studios, which is a part of NBC Universal, which was formed in May 2004 through a merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment. Here's the wrinkle: Vivendi Universal's video-game business has thrown its support behind Blu-ray! That should make for some interesting board meetings.