Disney Endorses Blu-Ray Disks

Gretchen Gallen
LOS ANGELES – As the race for market share in the high-definition DVD sector heats up, front-runner Blu-Ray – a format developed by Sony Corp and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. – won endorsement from The Walt Disney Company, putting it ahead of competitor HD-DVD.

Disney's endorsement of Blu-Ray comes with considerable weight given the amount of DVD content the company and its other units like Buena Vista, Miramax Home Entertainment and Touchstone Home Entertainment generate per year. Disney currently represents 17 percent of all DVD sales. Sony and MGM, also Blu-Ray supporters, hold 19 percent of DVD market share combined.

Blu-Ray is represented by a large consortium of electronics, software and entertainment companies, including Hitachi, Ltd., LG Electronics Inc., Industrial Co., Ltd., Pioneer Corp., Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Sharp Corp., Sony Corp., TDK Corp. and Thomson Multimedia.

As part of its endorsement, Disney said that it plans to start releasing content on Blu-Ray formatted disks as soon as Blu-Ray-enabled DVD players become available in Japan and parts of North America. Hewlett-Packard has also agreed to start selling PCs that include Blu-Ray disk drives as early as 2005.

Sony and Matsushita, which owns the Panasonic brand, have already commercialized Blu-ray technology and currently sell recorders in Japan.

Analysts have long predicted that the success of any new DVD format would depend entirely on acceptance from movie studios and entertainment companies. And while Disney's endorsement of Blu-Ray over HD-DVD is a significant leap, it comes on the heels of an HD-DVD endorsement by four of the leading Hollywood studios: Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and New Line Cinema.

HD-DVD is backed by Toshiba and has already garnered support from electronics companies NEC and Sanyo Electric. However, Samsung is so far reportedly hedging its bets and has given support to both formats.

HD-DVD has been criticized by its competitor for offering a lower data storage capacity than Blu-ray. However, HD-DVD can store more high-definition programming and could be cheaper for manufacturers because it uses technology that more closely resembles current DVDs.

While some analysts have said that the two competing formats could potentially exist side-by-side, there is strong sentiment among the movie studios and electronics companies that dueling formats would only confuse consumers and force studios to release content on both formats in order to not limit sales.

Both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD use blue lasers instead of the red lasers used in current DVD players. They are also designed with increased storage capacity and movie resolution and provide stronger anti-piracy protection.

As part of its endorsement, Disney has agreed to join the Blu-Ray Disc Association, however, it has also said that its support of Blu-Ray is non-exclusive.