Warner Bros. Seeks Patent for Hybrid High-Def DVD

While the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps battle for format dominance, Warner Bros. is looking for a middle ground with a three-layer optical disc that could play HD DVD, Blu-ray or standard DVDs.

Technology analysts have been hedging bets on which of the two new high-definition formats will ultimately win the war. Blu-ray maker Sony is going head to head with HD DVD champion Toshiba for share of the high-definition DVD marketplace. Matsushita Electric Industrial, maker of Panasonic products, sides with Sony, and Microsoft is aligned with Toshiba.

With much of Hollywood supporting Blu-ray, Sony CEO Howard Stringer has been bold in his public speeches about Blu-ray’s chances to reign supreme. However, not all of Hollywood is on the Blu-ray bandwagon. Warner Bros., for one, has not formally sanctioned a format.

Remembering the Consumers

In fact, just last week the studio’s Warner Home Video unit released “The Lake House,” a time-travel romance starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, on all three current DVD formats simultaneously. The company is supporting consumers by providing product in any format they prefer to use at home, according to Warner Home Video President Ron Sanders.

Both new formats — HD DVD and Blu-ray — offer resolutions exponentially higher than the standard definition DVDs, along with more vibrant contrast and color, crisper sound and higher levels of interactivity.

Warner’s moves to patent technology to develop a hybrid disc that plays the dueling formats is the latest twist in the skirmish. The studio’s Aug. 10 patent application suggests that it believes there may not be a clear winner for some time.

Reading Between the Formats

“A general problem with multiple formats of discs is that disc manufacturers must make various types of discs of each type in order to satisfy consumer demand for the content on those discs. A consumer that owns a standard DVD disc player can only play DVDs with a standard format,” Warner’s patent application reads.

“A consumer with a Blu-ray recorder can only play Blu-ray format recordable discs. And a consumer with an HD DVD disc player can only play HD DVD discs or standard format DVDs, but not Blu-ray format discs,” the application continued.

“From the standpoint of a manufacturer it is disadvantageous to have to manufacture and distribute three different types of disc formats to satisfy consumer demand for one product — such as a motion picture. Moreover, multiple formats of DVD discs create retail and consumer confusion as to which format(s) to acquire or buy.”

Prolonging the Pain

From the content provider’s perspective, providing movies in multiple formats is smart business if you want to make sure consumers with various different types of devices can view your film, according to JupiterResearch analyst Todd Chanko.

However, this new experiment could prolong the pain for some consumers at a time when they are already curbing spending on this type of media, Chanko told TechNewsWorld. He doubts there will be parallel universes with two different high-definition formats five years from now.

If Chanko is right, that would make Warner’s patents all but moot. From where he sits, however, the timing of the industry’s decision to transition from standard definition to high-definition DVDs is not ideal in the first place.

“Injecting into the marketplace a new DVD format that would force consumers to upgrade to new devices and to buy a new generation of disc just at the moment that DVD sales are going down may not be a good idea,” Chanko said. “HD as a category is still relatively new and the penetration is low.”

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