updated 12/9/2004 12:48:18 PM ET 2004-12-09T17:48:18

The Walt Disney Co. plans to release its movies and other content in the Blu-Ray format, one of the two major contenders for next-generation DVDs that will deliver high-definition images to TV sets.

The studio said Wednesday that its agreement was non-exclusive and would begin as soon as companies start releasing Blu-Ray DVD players in North America and Japan.

Blu-Ray was developed by Sony Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes the Panasonic brand, and Philips Electronics NV. It has the support of Columbia Pictures, which is owned by Sony, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was recently purchased by a group led by Sony.

Blu-Ray also has wide support among consumer electronics makers and computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co., which said it will start selling PCs with Blu-Ray disc drives late next year, coinciding with movie releases.

Disney also said Monday it will become a member of the board of the Blu-Ray Disc Association.

Last month, three other large studios announced they would release films in the competing HD-DVD format, which was developed by electronics makers Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp.

Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros., which includes New Line Cinema and HBO, said they would start releasing films in the HD-DVD format in time for the holidays next year.

The other major studio, 20th Century Fox, has yet to say which format it would support.

Earlier Wednesday, Disney president Robert Iger said he hoped one of the two competing formats would emerge as a leader, eliminating the need to offer movies in two formats and potentially confusing consumers.

“It doesn’t seem likely,” Iger said while speaking at an investor conference.

Studios are hoping to avoid the confusion that slowed the early adoption of videocassette recorders when consumers were faced with choosing between Betamax and VHS.

Both of the competing next-generation DVD formats promise increased storage capacity and movie resolution superior enough to get the most out of high-definition TV sets. And both would contain stronger anti-piracy protection, a key factor in the studio’s anxiousness to adopt a new format.

The software that protects current DVDs is easily circumvented.

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