DVD discs are as popular as VHS videotapes at video shops. A Cabinet Office survey shows that about half the households in Japan now have DVD-capable machines. DVD discs are also used in game and car-navigation consoles. Thus DVDs can truly be called a success story that has taken root in our daily life. Yet a war of sorts between the two camps of electronics companies that have developed the next-generation DVD threatens to introduce two different formats later this year — two types of mutually incompatible DVD discs and machines that would cause inconvenience to consumers.

The conflict between the two camps reminds one of the nightmare home-video format turf war of the 1980s between Betamax and VHS. There was also a war between Laserdisc and VHD. In the latter case, both formats went down together.

Although, at present, the two camps battling over the next-generation DVD format appear likely to go their own way, it is hoped that each side will continue efforts to develop a common standard by taking a broader view, with the consumer’s interest in mind, and nurturing the new market in a healthy way, rather than stick to a partisan approach.

The need for next-generation DVDs is prompted by the analog-to-digital conversion of ground TV broadcasts in 2011. An increasing number of programs of high-image quality, carrying massive volumes of signal information, will be broadcast. The capacity of current DVD discs is not large enough to record such digitally processed programs for long hours.

Although current DVD discs have resolution and image quality that is superior to that of VHS videotapes, they are not of a true high-definition format. To meet future needs, electronics makers have made strenuous efforts to increase the capacity of a DVD disc by a factor of 10, believing and hoping that the next-generation DVD machines will be the locomotive for the future market of electronic products.

At the beginning of this year, the two camps started negotiations to develop a unified format for next-generation DVDs. At one point it was reported that they were considering developing a format that would incorporate technologies from both camps. But negotiations bogged down in June.

One camp, led by Sony Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., is pushing the Blu-ray Disc format, while the other group, led by Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp., is pushing the HD-DVD standard. Both formats employ discs with a diameter of 12 cm — the same as for current DVD discs. But because the physical structures of the two competing types are different, each format will require different record-playback machines. Thus it will be impossible for a Blu-ray-type DVD machine to play back a HD-DVD disc, and vice versa.

Both formats employ blue laser technology. The single-layer capacity is 20 gigabytes for a HD-DVD disc and 25 gigabytes for a Blu-ray disc. Because of its larger capacity, the production cost of the Blu-ray disc is higher than that of the HD-DVD disc. The Blu-ray camp says its higher-capacity disc is more desirable in an age when consumers will demand high-image quality. The HD-DVD camp says consumers can compensate for the smaller capacity of its HD-DVD disc by jointly using TV sets or video recorders that incorporate hard disks. And the HD-DVD group cites a relatively low cost for converting existing DVD disc-manufacturing plants to HD-DVD production.

Behind the inflexible attitude of each side is a division among major American movie companies over which camp to support.

The format war will also affect the market and users of game machines. Sony plans to launch its new PlayStation 3 video game console equipped with a Blu-ray disc drive, while Microsoft Corp. may incorporate HD-DVD into its next-generation video game console Xbox 360. Users would not be able to play their HD-DVD movies on PlayStation 3, or Blu-ray movies on Xbox 360.

Backers of each camp may have assumed that, as soon as the makers of their preferred format form a simple majority with movie companies and software suppliers, that the format will become a world standard. But that’s not a certainty when engineering pride on each side is at stake.

Even in the current DVD market, different recording methods and standards in Europe, the United States and Japan have come into existence. The fact that not all DVD machines and DVD discs are compatible should, in itself, be enough to motivate the electronics companies involved to work together toward a common standard for the next-generation DVD. These companies, which have already made formidable names for themselves, should not neglect the responsibility that accompanies such a market presence — sparing no cost to eliminate consumer confusion and inconvenience.

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