Tokyo Claiming their format will supply a smoother, easier transition from current systems than the rival Blu-ray optical disk, advocates of high-definition DVD technology last week said they expect a final HD-DVD standard by February.
The first HD-DVD players and the first titles in the format will appear on the market next year. Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. both said they intend to introduce HD-DVD hardware in 2005, and Pony Canyon Inc., a leading provider of optical-disk software in Japan, said its initial titles will be priced similarly to current DVD titles.
At the HD-DVD Showcase here last week, Toshiba and NEC showed several titles encoded in VC-9 and H.264 at data rates of 8 to12 Mbits/second on giant monitors using prototype players and software produced by Memory-Tech Corp. About 150 entertainment companies and 1,000 individuals attended the three-day event.
Hisashi Yamada, chief technology fellow at Toshiba's Digital Media Network Co., defended the DVD Forum's work on the HD-DVD specifications and said the often contentious technical battles with Blu-ray proponents were necessary to thrash out a next-generation disk standard. "It's ideal to have an open discussion to build a new format," Yamada said.
Since the forum spun the original DVD format, "we wanted to settle the next-generation HD version there as well," he said, adding, "I felt that the Blu-ray format was technically difficult to support."
The DVD Forum has thus far approved version 1.0 of the HD-DVD-ROM and version 0.9 of the HD-DVD-ARW (recordable) sections. Proponents said they intend to propose all HD-DVD-related specifications to the forum and expect to get the approvals needed to finalize a standard by February.
Based on their experience crafting the original DVD spec, which included prolonged discussions of the recording technology that resulted in multiple recording formats, "we developed recording and ROM formats in parallel," said Ryoichi Hayatsu, chief manager of NEC's 1st Storage Products Division. "We hope to complete all format discussion within this fiscal year [ending in March 2005]."
Toshiba plans to introduce the first product with a recording function and built-in hard drive. To guarantee high picture quality, "Toshiba wants to introduce HD-DVD products together with SED TV sets," said Yoshihide Fujii, president of Toshiba Digital Media Network Co. The SED is a kind of field-emission display the company is developing with Canon for large-screen TVs. Toshiba and NEC intend to start marketing HD-DVD players in Japan and then expand sales over the course of several months.
Disk manufacturer Memory-Tech and Toshiba, together with NEC and four other companies, built two HD-DVD lines in May at Memory-Tech's Tsukuba, Japan, plant. The lines can produce both DVD and HD-DVD disks. Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Origin Electric, Shibaura Mechatronics and Hitachi Computer Peripherals are the other partners.
The lines take 3.5 seconds to manufacture one dual-layer 30-Gbyte HD-DVD disk and the yield rate is over 90 percent, said Masato Otsuka, senior manager of engineering at Memory-Tech. Within six months, the time will be squeezed to 3 seconds, the same as for a DVD disk, he said.
Memory-Tech will begin operating two other lines at its plant in Kofu, Japan, this month. The company's total production capacity for HD-DVDs will be 2.8 million disks/month at that time. The lines can be switched to standard DVD production within 5 minutes, Otsuka said.
Memory-Tech and Toshiba plan to disclose technical information on HD-DVD disk production that's been verified at the Tsukuba lines, in hopes of urging other disk manufacturers to join their camp. The companies will publish details on their Web sites (www.toshiba.co.jp and www.memory-tech.co.jp) at the end of August.
The HD-DVD proponents said last month that the standard would incorporate the recently finalized AACS, a next-generation copy protection format. Upon completion of the HD-DVD-ROM format, the group presented the specs to Microsoft Corp. so the software giant could support the format in its next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn. Toshio Yajima, senior executive adviser of Microsoft Japan, said Longhorn would support HD-DVD.