Microsoft and Intel to Support HD-DVD

Microsoft and Intel on Tuesday pledged their support for HD-DVD, the next-generation DVD format created by Toshiba. Microsoft had previously remained neutral in the standards war between HD-DVD and Sony-backed Blu-ray, as the company's VC-1 Windows Media Video codec will be included with both formats.

The announcement isn't that surprising, however. Microsoft's Xbox will soon begin a fierce battle with Sony's Blu-ray capable PlayStation 3 for living room dominance, and the company inked a deal in April for Warner Home Video to use VC-1 in its HD-DVD discs.

Other Microsoft rivals, including Apple and Sun, have thrown their support behind Blu-ray. Sun's Java Virtual Machine technology will power the menus and multimedia features in the new format.

In June, Microsoft also entered into a wide-ranging agreement with Toshiba that enables the two companies to share hardware and software technologies. At the time, Microsoft said it would investigate the feasibility of an HD-DVD player running Windows CE.

But in the end, copyright controls may have been the deciding factor for Microsoft and Intel. As the two companies push out more Media Center enabled PCs, the movement of protected content around the home becomes an important factor.

Blu-ray will include advanced watermarking technology that favors standalone consumer electronics devices by requiring authorization codes built into the hardware to access content. Such security features could make it difficult for consumers bouncing video from a PC to a TV, or those streaming content between networked computers.

Backing from "Wintel" and other PC heavyweights could prove an important boost for HD-DVD, which has been losing momentum to Blu-ray in recent months. Toshiba acknowledged in late August that its high-definition DVD format would not be ready by the end of the year as originally planned, pushing HD-DVD into early 2006.

Still, it's unclear whether consumers will even express interest in high-definition DVD - especially with the confusion a fractured marketplace will bring. Movie studios could create hybrid discs that also contain original DVD content, but that won't encourage users to make the leap into HD.

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