DVD dispute burns at PC makers

Dell, Hewlett-Packard assail Intel, Microsoft, which have lined up in the opposite next-generation format camp.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
After quietly heating up over recent months, the battle over next-generation DVD formats boiled over Thursday, as Dell and Hewlett-Packard assailed Intel and Microsoft, which have lined up in the opposite camp.

Earlier this week, Microsoft and Intel announced that they were backing the HD DVD format, saying its approach will spur easier home networking of movies and make it simpler to distribute hybrid discs containing both high-definition and traditional DVD movies. Dell and HP shot back Thursday, saying the world's largest software and processor makers were spreading "inaccurate" information. They also reiterated their backing for the rival Blu-ray format.

"From a PC end-user perspective, Blu-ray is a superior format," HP personal-storage unit general manager Maureen Weber said in a statement. Weber said Blu-ray offers anywhere from two-thirds to 150 percent more storage capacity, as well as higher transfer rates, and fits easily into slim notebooks. "The technical merits and consumer benefits of Blu-ray Disc make it the ideal solution for HP's customers."

Dell founder Michael Dell also lashed out at Microsoft and Intel during Wednesday's launch of a new premium PC line.

"Which version of Windows was the first to support DVD drives? The answer is none," Dell said, "because there is no DVD codec in Windows, because manufacturers have always provided their own codecs."

Both formats use blue lasers to pack more data onto a disc than is possible with today's DVDs, which are scanned by red lasers.

HD DVD has been supported by a Toshiba-led consortium, while Blu-ray has backing from Sony and the PC makers.

Microsoft countered the PC makers' claims, saying that although Blu-ray is promising some features, such as hybrid disc abilities, those features won't be ready as quickly as HD DVD will have them.

"Blu-ray has a promise there but they are several years away from delivering on the media," said Richard E. Doherty, a program manager in Microsoft's media and technology convergence unit. Doherty also said that Microsoft sees it as critical that all next-generation DVDs can be ripped onto a computer.

The spat is yet another example of the technology industry failing to line up behind a single standard. The format wars began in earnest with VHS vs. Beta in the video tape arena but can also be seen in more recent divides, including the DVD+R vs. DVD-R split. That DVD battle continued without a settlement, though many computers now have drives capable of recording to either type of media.

This particular battle is interesting in that it pits Intel and Microsoft against several of their largest customers. The battle has also divided the Hollywood studios.

Twentieth Century Fox, Vivendi Universal and Walt Disney have backed Blu-ray, while HD DVD's supporters include New Line Cinema, Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video.

Envisioneering analyst Richard Doherty (no relation to Microsoft's Doherty) said that although the content and technology providers appear willing to bicker, the stores that sell consumer DVD players and PCs want to see a single standard.

"What the retailers have told both groups is, 'Get your act together. We want one format,'" the analyst said.

Microsoft, meanwhile, said it would like to see an accord, with its representative acknowledging that a format war is likely to slow adoption of both DVD formats.

"We're still very hopeful that a war can be prevented," Microsoft's Doherty said. "If there is going to be a format war, we really want HD DVD to be the winner.

For its part, Microsoft plans to support both playing and copying of HD DVD discs with Windows Vista, the new version of the operating system due out next year. Doherty said Microsoft will support playback and streaming of existing standard DVDs, but it is still evaluating whether consumers will be able to rip such DVDs onto their hard drives.

Envisioneering's Doherty said there is still some hope that a peace agreement on next-generation DVDs will be reached, saying that as recently as earlier this month talks were held aimed at finding a compromise.

"There were dialogues," he said, "but no puff of white smoke (indicating a decision was reached)."

CNET News.com's Michael Singer contributed to this report.