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H-P urges Blu-ray to focus more on consumers

Hewlett-Packard is urging the Blu-ray high-definition DVD format be more consumer-friendly in a bid to forestall a lengthy and costly war with a competing standard.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hewlett-Packard Co., a major backer of the Blu-ray high-definition DVD format, is urging that it be more consumer-friendly in a bid to forestall a lengthy and costly war with a competing standard.

The appeal came on the same day Forrester Research predicted that Blu-ray would eventually win the war, but that consumers, hungry for digital content, would look elsewhere for video and take longer to embrace high-definition DVDs.

Hewlett-Packard Co., the nation's second largest PC maker, Wednesday asked the Blu-ray Disc Association to make it easier for consumers to transfer movies from a DVD to a home network, an option seen as essential to consumer adoption of any high definition DVD format.

Blu-ray's rival format HD DVD, which is backed by Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and Toshiba Corp., among others, features a standard known as "mandatory Managed Copy," which will allow a consumer to make a legal copy of their DVD and store the digital file on a home network. The movie can then be moved from a computer screen to a television and other authorized viewing devices on the network.

Blu-ray has much stricter content protection rules that allows studios to lock their movies to the disc, preventing any copying.

That stricter standard is favored by Hollywood studios, which are afraid of piracy. But companies such as Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and HP are marketing hardware and software that enable home networking, a feature believed to be desired by most consumers.

"It's critical that we have the ability to move content around the home," said Maureen Weber, HP's general manager of personal storage. She was in Los Angeles Wednesday presenting the company's case to the Blu-ray board.

The possibility of a format war between Blu-Ray and HD DVD was heightened last month when Microsoft and Intel threw their support behind the HD DVD format.

The announcement meant that PCs running Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system or Intel's Viiv entertainment technology will come with support for HD DVD drives.

That announcement prompted HP to push Blu-ray to adopt the more lenient copy protection standard.

Weber said Wednesday that it was "critical" that PCs running Microsoft's operating system support Blu-ray drives.

"We were hopeful there wouldn't be a format war," Weber said. "With Microsoft and Intel announcing support and with Chinese manufacturers allowing low cost players in the market, we know there will be a format war. We're trying to broker an olive branch here."

Mark Knox, a spokesman for the HD DVD camp noted that HP was "advocating consumer-friendly features that have long been a part of the HD DVD format."

A format war is also feared by Hollywood studios, which make most of their profits from home video sales.

Until recently, the six major studios were evenly split between supporting the two rival next generation DVD formats. That balance was disrupted earlier this month when Paramount Pictures said it would release films in both formats.

The decision by Sony Corp., the main backer of Blu-ray, to include the new format in every PlayStation 3 game console next year was a key factor in Paramount's decision.

The hope is that if Blu-ray adopts features already included in HD DVD, subsequent studio support of Blu-ray will persuade Toshiba to drop its format.

But consumer adoption of high definition DVD could be slower than studios and PC makers want.

The Forrester report concludes that consumers may be moving beyond DVDs, preferring to download content from the Internet or watching video on demand provided by cable television operators.

Neither next generation DVD format will succeed unless it gives consumers the option to move video around a home network, the report concluded.