The look of the next generation of digital video disks got harder to call when the DVD Forum's Steering Committee voted this week to approve the use of low-bit-rate compression for high-definition DVD. The DVD Forum's decision, made at a meeting Tuesday (Feb. 26) in Tokyo, to stick with a red-laser-based scheme but switch to low-bit-rate compression, came only a week after nine of the world's biggest electronics companies agreed to promote a blue-laser-based format for next-generation video and computer optical disks.
That format, the Blu-ray Disc, was developed outside the forum, but all nine of the initial backers are forum members.
Looking to avoid what they say would be a costly shift to blue-laser technology, steering committee member Warner Bros. and other content-production companies are behind the new DVD Forum proposal, which uses low-bit-rate encoding technology such as MPEG-4 to cram 9 Gbytes of high-definition video content onto a two-layer DVD. Blu-ray uses MPEG-2 compression, as does the current DVD standard. A single-sided 12-cm Blu-ray Disc would store 27 Gbytes of computer data, record 13 hours of broadcast TV or hold two hours' worth of high-definition video.
Of the 17 companies that sit on the DVD Forum steering committee, 11 approved the low-bit-rate encoding approach. The remaining six — including Matsushita, JVC and Philips — reportedly abstained.
The nine steering committee members backing the Blu-ray Disc are Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Pioneer, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony and Thomson Multimedia. Aside from Warner Bros., the other committee members are IBM, Intel, Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), JVC, Mitsubishi, NEC and Toshiba.
It is clear that the DVD Forum did not arrive at its decision this past week without some pain. Sources disagreed not only on what the vote meant but even on what had been decided.
Some sources involved in the developments insisted that they saw no contradictions in pursuing both blue-laser and low-bit-rate approaches. "I don't think it's confusing. It's only natural" to pursue both paths, since both encoding and blue-laser technologies continue to evolve, said Jan Oosterveld, a member of the Philips group management committee responsible for corporate strategy.
Blu-ray is a recording format for real-time interlaced TV programs, including HDTV programming, while low-bit-rate encoding is positioned as a prerecorded HD-DVD playback format for movies, said Chris Buma, program manager for A/V disk recording at Philips. "We don't see Blu-ray as replacing DVD; rather, it complements the next-generation DVD format."
Buma added that the steering committee's decision to go with low-bit-rate encoding — as low as 7 Mbits/second — would not necessarily preclude the use of blue lasers in the future.