HP, Panasonic Agree On DVD Formats - InformationWeek

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HP, Panasonic Agree On DVD Formats

Hewlett-Packard and Matsushita have agreed to work together in supporting DVD formats, a confusing list of acronyms for most consumers.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes Panasonic consumer electronics, on Wednesday said they have agreed to work together in supporting DVD formats, a confusing list of acronyms for most consumers.

In the agreement, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, computer maker HP agreed to support DVD-RAM discs used by Matsushita, while latter company said it would support the DVD+R and DVD+RW formats favored by HP.

In addition, HP said it would support Blu-ray technology, developed by Matsushita and other high-tech companies, for recording high-definition DVDs that can hold nearly six times as much data as traditional disks.

With the development of DVDs for recording, erasing and re-recording data, the familiar disks are now available in six major formats, which have left many consumers befuddled over the difference.

DVD+R and DVD+RW, the latter capable of re-recording data, are supported by Philips, Sony, HP, Dell, Ricoh, Yamaha and others. DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM, the latter capable re-recording, are supported by Panasonic, Toshiba, Apple Computer, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp. The latter formats are also supported by the DVD Forum, an industry group that defines DVD format specifications.

The sixth format, DVD-ROM, is a read-only format used for video or game content.

The crucial difference between the standards is which hardware manufacturers support which formats. The issue is similar to the VHS/Beta videotape wars, which started when VCRs first hit the market. The VHS format won.

HP, based in Palo Alto, Calif., entered the agreement with Matsushita to "help eliminate the format confusion for our customers," spokeswoman Ann Finnie said. For HP and Matsushita customers, the deal means they will be able to edit their home video in an HP computer, burn it to a DVD and play the movie on any Panasonic DVD player.

"We think this is a big win for our customers and we think it might drive consumer interest in being their own movie producer," Finnie said.

The key driver behind multiple formats are the royalties that must be paid to the creator, Vamsi Sistla, analyst for ABI Research, said.

"The main motivation is either getting or not paying royalties," he said.

The HP-Matsushita truce, however, was "good news, too late," since most consumer electronic devices and computers support multiple formats, Sistla said.

Nevertheless, HP believes the DVD+ format is better than its rival in editing video, and will stick by the technology.

"HP stands by the plus format," Finnie said. "We believe it's the superior format, but we need to offer our customers the choice."

HP and Matsushita also agreed to work together in support of the Blu-ray format, a high-definition DVD technology that uses a blue-violet laser, instead of the red laser used to burn traditional DVDs. The blue-violet technology can burn up to 27GB of data on a single-sided, single-layer disc, compared with the traditional DVD's 4.7GB capacity.

The Blu-ray format was developed jointly by Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Thomson, Hitachi, Matsushita, Pioneer, Philips, Mitsubishi and LG Electronics. Blu-ray's competitor Advanced Optical Disc, which has a storage capacity of 20GB on a single-layer disc, was developed jointly by Toshiba and NEC.

While the HP-Matsushita agreement was good news for Blu-ray proponents, it doesn't change the competition between the two technologies, Sistla said. AOD, for example, has support of 4 of the 7 major movie studios.

"I do not see a truce in the industry between these two formats," Sistla said. "It's a win for Blu-ray, but that doesn't mean AOD will crash and burn. It's a never ending battle."

HP plans to offer computers with Blu-ray DVD burners in the future, Finnie said.

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