Saturday, November 24, 2007

Warner Shelves Total HD Disc Format Plans

Warner Home Video, a leading content maker, said that it does not make any sense for it to promote Total HD hybrid discs alone and for the moment the intention to put both Blu-ray and HD DVD layers onto the same optical disc is “on hold”. The decision effectively cancels plans to distribute both Blu-ray and HD DVD titles at the same time and also means that other studios are still confident in their current HD strategy.

“For the moment, the [Total HD] is on hold. We’re the only studio producing content in both formats. If we were to put out Total HD with just our titles, it wouldn’t really provide the solution to our retail partners that it was intended to provide. If anything, at this point, it would further complicate their life, because there would be another product looking for shelf space. Our job is not to further complicate the lives of our retailers,” explained Jim Noonan, senior vice president of strategic promotion and communication for Warner Home Entertainment Group, in an interview with High-Def Digest web-site.

Both Blu-ray and HD DVD use 405nm wavelength laser to read data from the recordable media of the discs. However, the data layer of the Blu-ray discs is located 0.1mm from the disk’s surface, whereas the HD-DVD data layer resides 0.6mm deep from the disk’s surface. Warner’s engineers planned to create a disc with a Blu-ray top layer that works like a two-way mirror: it should reflect just enough blue light for a Blu-ray player to read, but it should also let enough light through for HD-DVD players to ignore the Blu-ray recording and find a second HD-DVD layer beneath.

Even though the Total HD project sounds like a simplistic one, it involves pretty complex technologies on the optical disc side as well as custom-made replication equipment, which makes Total HD a pretty expensive initiative. Moreover, in addition to increased cost of the disc itself it involves increased cost of replication, which adds several dollars to already not really affordable Blu-ray or HD DVD, which cost $20 - $27 online. Moreover, Warner also has to standardize its Total HD with both Blu-ray disc association as well as DVD Forum. Keeping all the aforementioned facts in mind, Warner now believes that it is hard for it to push the new media standard alone.

“Total HD was something that we offered up to the industry as a solution that would address buyer hesitancy, and the concern a consumer might have about the possible obsolesce of the hardware they were buying. We have no proprietary interest in Total HD. There is no patent we’re involved in, and there is no monetary reward for us if another studio decides to put out titles on Total HD. It was offered purely as an industry solution – and it is still a good and viable solution that has no expiration date,” Mr. Noonan said.

Total HD would allow studios that are format agnostic to sell one disc instead of a Blu-ray and an HD DVD versions. However, as only Warner and, to some degree, New Line Cinema, are format-neutral, whereas other studios dedicate themselves to a high-definition format, it is unlikely that Total HD will be released massively in short-term future.

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