Hi-def DVD talks stalling

Toshiba execs walk away amid concerns of compromise

Talks in Japan aimed at finding common ground between rival camps supporting two proposed incompatible formats for high-def DVDs broke down Monday with little hope for a resolution.

The meetings, involving consumer electronics companies and studio reps, began over the weekend and were to continue all week, but ended abruptly when Toshiba execs walked away amid concerns that there would be no compromise on technical points.

Toshiba leads a group backing the HD DVD format, supported by Warner, Universal and others.

Sony leads those supporting the alternate format, Blu-ray, whose backers include Matsushita and Disney.

At issue is the location of the data layer within the disc, which determines the disc structure and important aspects of manufacturing.

Differences surface

Blu-ray discs place the data layer only 0.1 mm from the surface, which allows the laser to be focused into a tight spot of light, allowing more data to be encoded on the surface.

HD DVD, like conventional DVDs, places the data layer 0.6 mm below the surface. That allows the discs to be manufactured on existing equipment.

Neither side had an official response late Monday in the U.S.

Although talks could still be scheduled, sources in the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps said they now see little choice but to proceed on the assumption that there will be no compromise.

Several studios said in January they would release movies for HD DVD by the end of this year, but it is increasingly unlikely that they will be able to meet that timetable given delays relative to copyright protection issues. The Blu-ray format is scheduled to be introduced in early 2006 and is the underlying format for the upcoming PlayStation 3.

Toshiba’s negotiator, Yoshihide Fujii, told Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai, “unifying the formats based on 0.1 mm would be extremely difficult at this stage.”