Warner Hybrid Discs to Premiere at CES

Though the formal press release has yet to be delivered, press services including Reuters were formally alerted this afternoon that movies made using hybrid multiple-layer, Blu-Ray/HD DVD/DVD disc manufacturing system for which Warner Home Video applied for a patent earlier this year, will be formally revealed to the public by Warner Home Video next week at CES 2007.

It may seem like magic, but Warner's format, which reports say will be christened Total HD, can sandwich up to three data layers atop one another - not one format on one side and another on the flip side - with each layer capable of being read by its respective player. Up to 22 configurations were described in the application, including mixtures using the high-capacity DVD format SD-9, with the objective being to create a single disc that can be operated in more than one type of player - conceivably as many as three.

The key is enabling what the application calls transmissivity of the lower layers in the sandwich, by reducing the reflectivity of those above them. Warner's inventors claimed to have discovered that high reflectivity was not entirely necessary for even existing players to read the signals from thinner, underlying layers - transmissivity could theoretically be reduced from 100% to as low as 12%, and still be effective.

A Total HD disc would not need a hybrid player such as the one LG plans to announce next week, and may solve the problem of media retailers having to divide their high-def shelves into separate segments.

"The Warner Bros. announcement is potentially more advantageous to the market [than the LG announcement]," said NPD director of industry analysis Ross Rubin this afternoon, "because it allows retailers to stock one copy of the movie that will play on both [high-definition] players, and it could have more of a market impact too, because even though consumers don't welcome paying more for a universal product, they're more likely to pay a few bucks more for the content than conceivably hundreds of dollars more for the player that supports both formats."

But the party may not be over so soon for LG. If its hybrid player announcement picks up the anticipated level of momentum, Rubin continued, other manufacturers could conceivably follow along in a sort of domino effect.

But studios have already had plenty of opportunity to support both high-def formats if they wanted to simply by producing titles for both, and so far, Warner and Paramount appear to be the only ones willing to do so. Even if Warner were able and willing to license its hybrid format to other studios (which it presumably would), their notorious egos - as exemplified by the stalemate in the format war to this point - might not allow any of them to be the first to "cave" to pressure.

Setting aside the studio wrestling match, however, Warner's announcement, once it comes, could technically be as ground-breaking for the industry as Columbia Records' initial unveiling of the LP record album format in 1948. It may also be the star development of this year's CES, even if only Warner's own titles ever come to bear the Total HD brand.

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