PCs are emerging as a battleground in the budding war between two technologies vying to be the standard for high capacity DVDs — and take the lucrative mantle of next benchmark in optical storage.
The stakes are huge for one group led by Sony, developer of the standard known as Blu-ray, and another led by Toshiba, developer of the rival HD-DVD standard, with each party standing to reap a fortune in royalties if its candidate becomes the next industry standard.
Many liken the war to the 1980s battle over video cassette recording standards, which ultimately saw the VHS standard emerge the victor over Sony’s Betamax.
Most attention to date has focused on a new generation of video players that can take advantage of up to 30 gigabytes of storage capacity — six times the amount in current DVDs — to show movies in high definition.
But PC makers will also be vital in deciding which standard ultimately wins, said Howard Locker, director of new technology at China’s Lenovo Group Ltd., the world’s third biggest computer maker.
“The three major suppliers of the players of these new next generation discs will be the PC industry, consumer electronics and gaming machines,” Locker said. “If you look at the volumes, PCs are now more than 50 percent of that total space, so we’ll have a big say on who wins.”
So far, however, most PC makers are refusing to take sides.
Lenovo itself is taking a wait-and-see approach, keeping its feet in both camps but committing to neither just yet.
Among other industry giants, Dell the world’s biggest PC maker, has said it is committed to Blu-ray, while Hewlett-Packard, the number two player, has said it will support both standards.
Taiwan’s Acer. was showing four notebook models with HD-DVD drives this week in Taiwan at Computex, the world’s second biggest computer show. But a spokeswoman said the company also plans to support Blu-ray when drives become available.
PC and optical disc makers at Computex said Sony could once again be behind the game, with its technology about a half year behind HD-DVD in terms of market readiness.
Like Acer, laptop specialist Asustek Computer Inc. said it was planning to incorporate both standards into its models, but was only showing an HD-DVD-equipped laptop at the show.
“Right now we have no supply (of Blu-ray drives),” said Vicki Hsiao of the company’s sales and marketing department. “We’re expecting some this month.”
She and others said PCs equipped with HD-DVD or Blu-ray will cost several hundred dollars more than comparably equipped models with DVD drives — a factor that should keep sales relatively low this year as consumers wait for applications and video titles that can take advantage of the higher capacity.
CMC Magnetics, the world’s largest maker of compact discs, was showing both Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats at Computex, but Chairman Bob Wong said Blu-ray was about six months behind HD-DVD.
But sales of both types of discs — which now cost around $20 each but are expected to come down quickly as volume ramps up — are expected to zoom next year as the disc drives find their way into more PCs and standalone video players.
“We’ve just started taking orders for these discs,” Wong said.