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Intel, Microsoft take sides on next-gen DVDs

After taking a neutral stance for months, Intel and Microsoft throw their support behind the next-generation DVD standard known as HD DVD.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., the leading suppliers of chips and software for most of the world's personal computers, are throwing their support behind the next-generation DVD standard known as HD DVD.

After taking a neutral stance for months in the battle between the competing HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats, the companies said Tuesday they have joined the HD DVD Promotion Group that includes Toshiba Corp., Universal Studios and others.

The move means upcoming PCs running Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system or Intel's Viiv entertainment technology will come with support for HD DVD drives. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

"We want to make sure that whatever is put out on the market is going to be as consumer friendly as possible from the price and usability point of view," said Blair Westlake, vice president of Microsoft's Media/Entertainment and Technology Convergence Group.

The decision by Microsoft and Intel pits the two largest makers of equipment for PCs against many of the companies that build and sell computers. Blu-ray is backed by Sony Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., along with a variety of other tech companies and studios.

"We don't see this announcement as anything that will shift the momentum that Blu-ray Disc has experienced," said Josh Peterson, HP's director of strategic alliances and a Blu-ray spokesman.

It was not clear how Microsoft and Intel's move would affect the stance of computer makers, but the PC industry has managed to skirt confusion over dueling standards in the past by offering drives that can handle multiple formats.

Efforts so far to merge the standards into a single format have gone nowhere as tech companies and studios have divided into the two camps. Analysts say consumers are likely to stick with standard DVDs until there is a resolution.

Though Intel and Microsoft's action gives the HD DVD group additional muscle, it does not deal a knockout blow to Blu-ray.

"We have no plans to build native Windows support for Blu-ray or other HD formats," said Jordi Ribas, technical strategy director for Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division. "That doesn't mean third parties could not build that support on their own."

HD DVD will offer consumers the ability to keep on their PCs a copy of a movie that can be streamed to other devices in the home. It also allows studios to store high definition and standard versions of a movie on a disk.

Westlake also said the HD DVD camp has made inroads with manufacturers in China, where most of the world's DVD players are currently built. Without that support, it would be difficult to quickly deploy the technology at a low price.

"(Blu-ray) does not have that relationship and we're concerned about whether that offering of Chinese players will be there. We know HD DVD will be," Westlake said.

Peterson said Blu-ray technology can be licensed by any company anywhere in the world.

Supporters of Blu-ray have claimed they have a more sophisticated technology with a greater storage capacity. HD DVD companies have pointed to the fact that their offering will be available sooner and at less cost _ an argument disputed by the Blu-ray group.

HD DVD supporters also say their offering will be available sooner.

"Blu-ray is very robust, but it's also not here," said Richard Doherty, research director for the Envisioneering Group. "The PC industry has clearly backed the system that is weeks away from commercialization."