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Panasonic plays DVD maker to push next-gen format

Temporary plan is meant to reassure Hollywood that the current format battle will be resolved and that Blu-ray is the future.

Panasonic will open a technology center for producing DVDs based on the next-generation Blu-ray Disc format. The plan is meant to reassure Hollywood that the current format battle will be resolved and that Blu-ray is the way to go.

The electronics maker announced Tuesday that it will christen the center in mid May, with full test production of Blu-ray ROM discs beginning at the end of the month. Production of dual-layer discs will begin in December. The test discs will feature content suitable for demonstration purposes.

The plan, however, is temporary--Panasonic is one of the leading consumer electronics makers and has no intention of permanently getting into the disc manufacturing or content creation businesses. With a debate in the industry over what will be the next generation DVD format, executives felt it was necessary to demonstrate something tangible for the entertainment industry.

"We're not in the replication or authoring businesses," said Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, director of Panasonic Hollywood Lab. "We wanted to show that the technologies are there waiting for companies when they want to launch their efforts?The studios have been concerned with how a new next generation format can be established, and this demonstration was more to alleviate some of those concerns."

Panasonic and other major consumer electronics and PC names, such as Sony, Dell and Hewlett Packard, are promoting the Blu-ray Disc format, while Toshiba is among the big companies supporting the rival HD DVD format. The incompatible formats aim to significantly increase the data storage capacity of discs and succeed DVD as the next step in optical storage. DVDs took over for CDs as the entertainment industries looked to put video content on optical discs after huge success with CDs.

The move toward higher capacity optical discs is primarily driven by the gradual transition to high definition video content, which uses larger amounts of data to support high resolution picture quality. Next generation discs promise to far exceed the 8.5GB capacities of dual-layer DVDs, with up to 50GB for dual-layer Blu-ray Discs.

Hollywood studios have been pushing for a unified next generation DVD format to prevent consumer confusion and to avoid having to print movies onto two different disc formats.

Tsuyuzaki said that while Panasonic is participating in those discussions, the talks are in early stages and the production line effort has been in the works for a while.