9 Firms Agree to Standard for Videodiscs : Electronics: The companies want to avoid the type of war over rival formats that plagued VCRs in the 1970s and 1980s.

From Reuters

Nine of the world's biggest electronics and entertainment firms said Friday that they had agreed on a technical format for digital videodiscs, clearing the way to create a multibillion-dollar market.

The firms have said digital videodisc players, a next-generation playback technology for text, sound and images, may replace traditional videocassette recorders and CD-ROM drives for personal computers early in the next century.

The companies agreed in principle in September to set a single standard in order to avoid the type of war over rival formats that plagued VCRs in the 1970s and 1980s.

The firms will "work to position DVD optical discs as the ideal digital storage medium for the age of multimedia," they said in a statement.

This week's final agreement was reached between a group led by Toshiba Corp. and a rival alliance led by Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics.

The pact covers digital videodisc players for video and DVD-ROM drives for personal computer use. The firms said that they hope to agree on a single standard for music players next spring after consulting music companies around the world. Digital videodisc players will be able to play existing compact discs.

Toshiba said it intends to begin selling digital videodisc players in the United States by next September at a price between $500 and $700, while sales in Japan would start later in the fall. It did not say when European sales would start.

Digital videodiscs are double-sided optical discs with a diameter of 4.7 inches. They use new laser technology to store up to 4.7 gigabytes of data on each side of the disc, enough to record 133 minutes of film and sound.

Time Warner Inc., a member of the group, plans to introduce 250 movie titles when digital videodisc players are launched.

Toshiba said the group will begin licensing the technology to other firms soon, and the licensing fee will be slightly higher than that for CDs.

Under the agreement in principle, the two groups endorsed Toshiba's double-sided disc structure and error correction protocol and Sony's signal modulation protocols.

In the rivalry over VCRs in the 1970s and 1980s, Sony's Beta format eventually lost the battle for consumer acceptance to Matsushita's VHS format.

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