Three Hollywood studios are throwing their weight behind one of two competing formats for the next generation of DVDs, citing in part the need to stem piracy.
Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros., which includes New Line Cinema and HBO, said Monday that they would start releasing films in the HD-DVD format in time for the holidays next year.
The announcement escalates the battle between HD-DVD, developed by electronics makers Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp., and Blu-Ray, backed by Sony Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes the Panasonic brand, and Philips Electronics.
Monday’s announcements are nonexclusive and the companies said they might produce DVDs in both formats if consumers demanded it.
But the announcement also put pressure on electronics makers to produce devices that support both of the competing formats.
Privately, entertainment industry executives say they cannot afford a format war and do not want a repeat of the confusion that slowed the early adoption of videocassette recorders when consumers were faced with choosing between Betamax and VHS.
Although the Blu-Ray format can store more digital programming than HD-DVD, proponents of the latter say it will be cheaper for manufacturers because it uses technology that more closely resembles that used in current DVDs.
“We think HD-DVD has a clear advantage in cost of manufacturing, ease of manufacturing, and it will offer the consumer a great-quality product,” said Rob Friedman, chief operating officer at Paramount Pictures.
Blu-Ray has the support of Columbia Pictures, which is owned by Sony, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., which is being acquired by a group led by Sony.
Blu-Ray also has wide support among consumer electronics makers and computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co., which said it would start selling PCs with Blu-Ray disc drives late next year, coinciding with movie releases.
Blu-Ray supporters said they did not see Monday’s announcement as a setback.
“We’re fairly early on in the time frame of these formats,” said Andy Parsons, senior vice president of advanced product development at Pioneer Corp., a major Blu-Ray backer. “We have discussions with studios on a regular basis.”
Both formats promise increased storage capacity and resolution to get the most out of high-definition television sets.
And both would contain stronger anti-piracy protection, a major factor in the movie studios’ eagerness to adopt a new format.
Analysts say Monday’s announcement could force a compromise between the formats.