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Sony moves to ward of potential DVD format war

Japanese giant "open to discussions" over update to DVD platform.

In a bid to prevent a repeat of the Betamax versus VHS battle, Sony has announced that it is prepared to negotiate with other technology firms to agree on a standard format for the next generation of DVDs.

Until now, Sony has stood firmly behind the Blu-ray format. Blu-ray discs can store 50GB of data and the format is also backed by Philips, Apple, Hitachi, Panasonic, Matsushita, LG, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp and Thomson.

However, Blu-Ray has been somewhat slower to begin roll-out than HD DVD - and although HD-DVD discs can only store 30GB, the format is backed by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo. More than 80 films from studios including Paramount, Warner Bros and Universal are slated for release on the format later this year.

Both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD use blue lasers which enable data storage at higher densities. This is because they have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers currently found in DVD equipment.

Sony recently announced that games for its next-generation PlayStation console would be produced on the Blu-Ray format, and Microsoft was at one point expected to hit back by supporting HD-DVD for Xbox 360 titles, although it's now thought to have decided to stick with the existing DVD format.

Now the Japanese giant has told Reuters that it may be willing to reach an agreement with its competitors to put an end to the format war before it begins.

"From the point of view to provide the best service to the consumer, one format is better than two. We're open to discussions," said Yukinori Kawauchi, the general manager heading up the next-gen DVD project at Sony's Video Group.

However, Sony has yet to put a set of plans for the single format on the table: "There's no visible progress to do that [create a single standard]," said Kawauchi.

The first mass-market next-gen DVD players and recorders are slated to go on sale by the end of 2005. At present the DVD equipment market is worth $10 billion annually, and $33 billion of published DVD products were sold in 2004. Forecasters say this will rise to $77 billion over the next four years.