Industry Roundup

Blu-ray progress: The Blu-ray Disc Founders group announced August 3 that it has agreed to standards for read-only high-density discs. The 13-member group, including core members Sony Corporation and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd, parent company of Panasonic, claims that Blu-ray DVD players could be available by midyear 2005.

The format is competing against "HD DVD," a different technology using blue lasers, backed by Japanese electronics firms Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. Shorter wavelength blue lasers allow far greater data density in optical discs, essential for high-definition video. The Blu-ray Disc Founders group will officially morph into the Blu-ray Disk Association in October.

Adelphia on the auction block: The assets of bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications will go up for sale in earnest "shortly after Labor Day," according to announcements issued the first week of August. Among the assets to be sold are regional cable operations around the US. Adelphia has hired UBS Investment Bank and Allen & Co. to handle the sales. Likely beneficiaries of the auction will be cable providers Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, and Cox Communications.

Adelphia's Los Angeles systems serve approximately 800,000 subscribers. The company also has large systems in place in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Analysts estimate Adelphia's value somewhere between $17 billion and $20 billion. Comcast could be in a good position to make an offer. The company's second fiscal quarter results, published July 28, showed revenue from cable operations up 10.4% to $4.839 billion, with operating income doubling to $852 million.

FCC and content protection: On August 4, the US Federal Communications Commission approved Thomson's "SmartRight" digital content protection system to "flag" unauthorized Internet redistribution of digital TV programming. SmartRight will be incorporated into the next generation of digital TV and computer products in compliance with an FCC mandate requiring content protection in all such products by July 1, 2005. Some electronic hobbyists and civil libertarians fear that the broadcast flags could render some current and older equipment obsolete.

LCD trio: Hitachi, Matsushita, and Toshiba are reportedly in discussions to form an alliance to produce thin-film-transistor (TFT) liquid crystal display (LCD) panels used in flat-panel TVs. Reuters news service claimed that Matsushita might provide the lion's share of the $894 million needed to build a "Generation 6" LCD fabrication plant in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo. The area is the location for Hitachi's "Gen 4" LCD plant, building small and medium sized LCDs.

Manufacturing alliances are increasingly common in the flat-panel display sector, including a partnership between LG Electronics and Philips, and another between Samsung and Sony . Toshiba and Matsushita are already partners in a joint venture producing small and medium sized LCDs. Japan's largest LCD maker is Sharp Corporation, with a second LCD TV panel production line due to go into operation at its Kameyama fabrication facility later this month.