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Toshiba finally signals end of HD DVD

Timeline: HD DVD versus Blu-ray

Toshiba has halted production of HD DVD players and recorders and is close to making a decision on whether to throw in the towel on the high-definition movie disc format, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday evening.

The decision, which NHK said will likely cost the company several tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of pounds), is being made in the face of flagging support by movie studios and major US retailers.

"We are making considerations following the impact on sales of Warner's announcement but we haven't made any decision," said Keisuke Ohmori, a spokesman for Toshiba, when reached on Saturday evening. He was referring to the January decision by Warner Bros to stop issuing movies on HD DVD and go solely with Blu-ray Disc.

Other local media reports on Saturday said an official announcement from Toshiba is likely in the coming week.

HD DVD has been battling Blu-ray Disc for just under two years to become the de facto replacement for DVD for high-definition video. HD DVD is backed by Toshiba and a handful of other companies including Microsoft and Intel but Blu-ray Disc counted a larger number of consumer electronics heavy hitters. The main backer of the format is Sony and other supporters include Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, LG and Philips.

Both formats delivered a similar audio and video quality and the main difference comes down to the movies available on each format. Most movie studios have taken one side or the other so consumers are left with a difficult decision. As a result many have walked away from stores with neither an HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc player and the market has performed poorly.

The Warner Bros decision in January has been seen by many as the beginning of the end for HD DVD. With Warner pulling out HD DVD only two of the major Hollywood studios, Paramount and Universal, are left backing the format.

In the weeks since the Warner announcement things have got worse for HD DVD. In the last week Netflix, an internet-based movie rental company in the US, said it would cease supporting HD DVD and then on Friday Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the US, said it would stop selling HD DVD in favour of Blu-ray Disc.

History of the DVD wars

The high-definition movie disc battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc can be traced all the way back to 2000, when companies began experimenting with using new blue lasers in optical disc systems.

Because the wavelength of blue light is shorter than that of the red lasers used in DVD, less physical space is needed to record each bit of data and so more information can be crammed onto a DVD-sized disc. This extra space was needed to store the new high-definition video and TV services that were starting to be commercialised around that time.

But what started in 2000 as technical research became a battle between the world's largest electronics companies and movie studios, with the consumer caught in the middle.

See the next page for a look at the major milestones in the HD DVD versus Blu-ray format wars.


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