JVC's Dual-Format DVD

Backward compatibility with today's DVDs is important to the success of any new high-definition format. Japan Victor Corporation (JVC) may have the solution with a hybrid prototype that combines the high-definition Blu-ray disc with a standard DVD.

On December 23, Nihon Keizai Shimbun America, Inc. reported that JVC engineers had succeeded in combining the two formats in a single three-layer disc, making it possible to "fit a two-hour movie in both current DVD and Blu-ray Disc next-generation DVD formats on a single optical disc." The first two layers contain normal DVD content, as with current discs. The third layer contains the high-definition content.

The news improves market possibilities for the Sony-backed Blu-ray format. Toshiba and its partners in the competing HD DVD camp have already succeeded in combining their format with normal DVD on one disc. The advantage for movie studios and other content providers is that they can issue both standard and high-def versions of their titles in one package rather than having to maintain separate production lines and SKUs (stock keeping units).

Cost of the combo disc could be as much as 30% higher than standard DVDs. Mass production of the Blu-ray/DVD hybrids won't begin until 2006 or 2007, according to the announcement. Blu-ray also got a boost December 22 when Bandai Visual Company announced its support for the format. The Japanese maker of animation software expects "the Blu-ray Disc to strengthen our content technology and enable higher picture quality," according to a statement from managing director Shigeru Watanabe.

In other HD disc news, NEC Corporation announced Monday December 20 the development of an optical disc drive capable of playing back CDs, DVDs and HD DVDs with a single optical head. The versatile disc drives should begin appearing in personal computers by fall 2005.