Paramount backs Blu-ray in latest twist of DVD war

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In the latest twist of a heated battle over next-generation DVD technology, Paramount Home Entertainment said it would release high-definition movies in the Blu-ray format backed by a group led by Sony Corp.

TOKYO/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the latest twist of a heated battle over next-generation DVD technology, Paramount Home Entertainment said it would release high-definition movies in the Blu-ray format backed by a group led by Sony Corp.

Paramount, a film studio owned by Viacom Inc., had previously said it would release titles in a competing DVD format called HD DVD that is endorsed by a consortium of electronics makers including Toshiba Corp.

A source familiar with the situation said Paramount still aimed to release titles on both HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, although it was not clear whether all titles would be released on both formats.

Paramount's move to also support Blu-ray was prompted by the failure of the two factions to join forces before players went on sale, the source familiar with the matter said. Backing both formats would ensure that Paramount supported whichever one eventually won the new format war with consumers.

In a statement released late Sunday in the United States, Paramount threw its weight strongly behind the Blu-ray camp but did not mention HD DVD.

"After more detailed assessment and new data on cost, manufacturability and copy protection solutions, we have now made the decision to move ahead with the Blu-ray format," Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures, said in the release.

Toshiba said in a statement on Monday that it believed Paramount continued to back HD DVD, basing that position on comments made by Paramount officials in previous press reports.

Lesinski said the fact that Sony's next-generation PlayStation 3 game console would come equipped with a Blu-ray DVD player was a key factor behind its support. PlayStation 3 is due to be launched next spring.

Sony's PlayStation 2 console, which can play conventional discs, was a key driver of current-generation DVD sales.

Paramount's support is a welcome vote of confidence for the Blu-ray camp following news last week that Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., the world's top software maker and largest chip maker, were throwing their weight behind HD DVD.

Next-generation DVD discs, designed to store movies and other content with much more detail and clarity, have sparked a three-year battle between Toshiba and Sony, over what is expected to be a multi-billion-dollar market for next-generation DVD players, PC drives and optical discs.

Paramount joins Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Walt Disney Co. and News Corp. unit Twentieth Century Fox in backing Blu-ray, although like Paramount, Disney and Fox have not ruled out the possibility of also releasing movies for HD DVD.

Universal Studios, a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, and Warner Bros. Studios have endorsed HD DVD.

The first HD DVD-compatible players and recorders are expected to start appearing on store shelves as early as the end of this year in Japan, and new products for both formats are scheduled for wider release in 2006.

Earlier this year, Sony and Toshiba briefly held talks over unifying their formats and avoiding an all-out standards war similar to the one between the VHS and Betamax videocassette formats, but those discussions fizzled.

At the core of both formats are blue lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in current DVD equipment, allowing discs to store data at the higher densities needed for high-definition movies and television.
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