Peace Entreaties

A format war over a high-definition disc format now unfortunately appears inevitable. The all-but-formal declaration came at the Blu-ray press event on the first day of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (also see Rich Warren's article, "Next-Generation DVD"). The opening speaker, a representative from Panasonic, called the differences between the Blu-ray Disc (BD) and arch-rival HD DVD "too important for compromise" and said that HD DVD is a "rear-view-mirror approach" too concerned with compatibility with old technology (the present DVD) instead of with the myriad of new applications that could take advantage of a new disc's high data capacity. The Buena Vista (Disney) representative took this thread up, saying "it is so important not to go halfway" in the design of a new system, implying that is precisely what the HD DVD camp is doing. Backing down from this heightened rhetoric will be difficult without loss of face. They said it couldn't be done: the laser pickup in Pioneer's prototype Blu-ray computer drive reads Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and CDs. (Photo by Peter Pachal)

There will be a format war - absent divine intervention - because the two formats' laser/optical systems are so fundamentally different that no "compromise" design could preserve all the supposed technical advantages of each one. BD proponents repeatedly point to its higher data capacity (50 gigabytes on a one-sided, single-layer disc vs. HD DVD's 30 GB). HD DVD proponents repeatedly point to the ease with which a present-day DVD manufacturing facility could be converted to HD DVD production (in "minutes," said a representative of Memory Tech, a DVD pressing plant, at HD DVD's press event).