Toshiba looking to get high-def out of standard DVDs

Despite its exit from the next-generation DVD race, the one-time champion of HD DVD is not giving up on the promise of high definition on optical disc. Rather, it seems to be working to improve standard DVDs.

Toshiba President Atsutoshi Nishida has said that his company has no plans to market optical disc players compatible with Blu-ray, according to a citation that appeared last week in Japan's Daily Yomiuri.

Instead, it now appears Toshiba will look to bring to market players that include new firmware that would include codecs or other processes capable of upconverting the images to high-definition quality. This player would arrive in retail channels by the end of the year.

Unresolved questions are numerous, including how this new player would differ from current upconverting models, which have seemed to gain traction as a lower-cost alternative to both the now defunct HD DVD and Blu-ray. Toshiba already offers a line of upconverting DVD consoles with both 720p and 1080p capability, the latest model of which premiered just last March, and which Amazon.com currently sells for about $73.

It would be inaccurate to say Toshiba is planning another "Blu-ray killer," as some have speculated, though it's conceivable it could use its newly patented technology to stretch the boundaries of red-laser DVD capacity at some future date.

Years ago, engineers speculated that standard DVDs would only be capable of storing 20 minutes of high-resolution video. Since that time, codecs have certainly improved, but not to the point where a full movie in 1080p could be stored on a single DVD.

But there's evidence today that Toshiba has been exploring ways to stretch those boundaries. Just yesterday, Toshiba was awarded a US patent that looks to improve the standard DVD itself.

According to the patent, the new technology would allow for multiple recordable layers, adding "two or more" layers per side. Adding parallel heads to read these recording layers, the patent suggests, could actually eliminate crosstalk between layers, which is a perennial problem encountered by previous attempts to achieve higher capacity red-laser discs.

A future Toshiba console could combine this multi-layer technology with the new system firmware alluded to in the Daily Yomiuri report, though probably not by the end of this year.

In any case, with Sony's continuing resistance to bring down the price of Blu-ray players to levels that the average consumer can afford, there may indeed be an opportunity for Toshiba to sneak in and cannibalize Blu-ray manufacturers' sales, if Toshiba's new technology works as advertised.

So far, no further comment has been made available by Toshiba. If the company did have anything more to say, now would be the week to say it, with the big Computex show in Taipei going on this week.

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