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Apple Joins BDA, Throws Weight Behind Blu-Ray

By Brad Cook MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 14, 2005 12:00 PM PT

As a war brews between competing high-definition (HD) DVD formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, Apple has thrown its weight behind the former with an announcement that it has joined the Blu-ray Disc Association's (BDA) board of directors.

Apple Joins BDA, Throws Weight Behind Blu-Ray

The BDA's membership roster currently consists of more than 100 companies. Apple joins a board that includes Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony, TDK, Thomson, 20th Century Fox and Disney.

It wasn't unexpected that Apple would choose to support one of the formats, given the company's current strategy: In January, Apple completed moving all of its digital video editing software to HD with the introduction of iMovie HD, and by the end of June it should release Mac OS X v10.4, nicknamed "Tiger," its next-generation operating system, which will include QuickTime 7. QuickTime 7 supports the H.264 MPEG codec that has been adopted for use with both high-definition DVD formats.

Hedging Bets

Apple said in a statement given to MacNewsWorld that the company "is committed to both emerging high-definition DVD standards. Apple is [also] an active member of the DVD Forum."

A spokesperson declined to say when the company will start shipping computers with Blu-ray and/or HD DVD drives. The DVD Forum -- founded in 1995 by Hitachi, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Philips, Sony, Thomson, Time-Warner, Toshiba and Victor Company of Japan -- defines DVD specifications and promotes acceptance of the medium, but it does not require members to adhere to one format over another.

"Apple did the right thing by picking a side and getting behind a standard," Jupiter Research Senior Analyst Joe Wilcox said. "However, that doesn't mean they won't support the other standard down the road."

If Apple did include Blu-ray drives in upcoming laptop and desktop computers but later switched to HD DVD, pending the outcome of the format war, such a move wouldn't be a first for the company, according to Wilcox. "Apple originally shipped DVD-RAM drives in its Power Macs," he noted, "but when the wind shifted to DVD-R, Apple switched to the other format."

Data Capacity Could Be Key

A single-layer Blu-ray disc can hold up to 25 GB of data, while the dual-layer version can store as much as 50 GB, which is key for delivering bandwidth-intensive HD video as well as enabling high-capacity storage. In contrast, current single- and dual-layer DVDs are limited to 4.7 GB and 8.5 GB, respectively, while HD DVD discs can carry 15 GB and 30 GB. Blu-ray boasts larger capacity, but HD DVD's main selling point to content providers is that they can reconfigure their DVD manufacturing lines to HD DVD in mere minutes, while Blu-ray requires a more substantial investment.

"I don't see the format war having an effect [on computer users]," Wilcox said. "When you look at consumer behavior, they just aren't making home movies on DVD. They want photos and music. They might buy a lot of Hollywood movies [on DVD], but they're not making their own.

"Their behavior is more about storage," he continued. "Backing up photos and other precious memories. The big difference there [between the new formats] is capacity. Blu-ray and HD DVD are incompatible, however, which is a recipe for consumer confusion."

Sizing up the Competition

HD DVD's proponents include Toshiba, NEC, Memory Tech, Sanyo, Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video and New Line Home Entertainment.

While computers and set-top DVD players with Blu-ray drives won't appear until 2006, Toshiba said at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that it will ship laptops with HD DVD drives, as well as HD DVD players and recorders, in the fourth quarter of this year.

Sanyo will also place set-top HD DVD players on store shelves during the fourth quarter, while NEC expects to deliver HD-DVD-ROM drives in September. On the home video front, the film studios backing HD DVD have released lists of movies new and old that will be available in the format by the end of the year, although some big names, such as "The Lord of the Rings," are noticeably absent. No movie release schedules have been announced by the studios supporting Blu-ray.

Sony's PlayStation 3, which will debut next year, features a Blu-ray drive, but Microsoft has not decided which format to use in its upcoming Xbox 2. Nintendo will likely stick with a proprietary format, given its track record. Microsoft's WMP9 video codec is part of the HD DVD format, which has led to speculation that the company is leaning in that direction for its next-generation video game console, but more news will probably not emerge until May's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

Right now, with the major computer manufacturers supporting it, and with video game companies Electronic Arts and Vivendi also on board, Blu-ray appears to have a clear edge over HD DVD.

Wilcox, however, cautioned that "it's still early [in the format war]. This is anybody's game to win here, and this isn't the first time Apple has hedged its bets."


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