The battle lines are shaping up over the next format for High Denfinition DVD. Stuart Miles looks into the players of the second format war

On the other side of the world in Japan, a fierce battle is waging between Sony and Toshiba. Mirroring the VHS vs Beatamax battle some 20 years ago, the new battle over the next evolution in home entertainment has begun.

The battle centres over the next step in high definition DVDs and the amount of data that you can store on a DVD disc. DVD discs hold plenty of data, but the numerous special edition DVDs show that it's not enough. Currently the capacity is around four hours worth of viewing per disc. The solution however from manufacturers isn't so simple.

The players
Sony, Panasonic and Hewlett Packard have opted for a format called Blu-ray while Toshiba, NEC and the DVD Forum have chosen HD DVD. The problem that consumers will face next year when players start to surface is which format to opt for.

Both new formats will be the size of the current DVD disc (Blu-ray currently comes in cassette format however this will change when its launched outside of Japan), and both have improved memory capabilities up to and beyond eight hours of footage on one disc. Couple that with the promise of better picture quality as long as you've got a television capable of showing it and you're going to get confused very quickly.

Sony, in true Sony style is pulling out all the stops, and is using the might of Columbia Tristar and MGM to push home the message. Fox has also signed to the Blu-ray association, however has yet to confirm whether or not it will be releasing titles on the format.

In an additional push to convince the public that Blu-ray is the right choice, Sony is likely to include the new format into the PlayStation 3 gaming console when it launches in 2006.

Meanwhile Toshiba are sitting around twiddling its thumbs, pushing ahead with its own plans; Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers have all said they will be supporting the new film format. Toshiba routing for the for data angle as well as the film angle has also announced a range of laptops to include the technology to be launched later this year, as well as signing up additional partners to the format and waving the DVD Forum flag support as hard as they can.

What about my current collection?
The current situation is seeing both sides trying to develop systems that allow playback of both DVD and Blu-ray or DVD and HD-DVD. Toshiba has created in collaboration with Memory-Tech, a new disc that will support DVD playback on one side and HD DVD playback on the other.

In response to this Philips a member of the Blu-ray consortium has announced that it has developed a drive that is compatible with Blu-ray, DVD and CDs.

But will we really benefit?
Some commentators believe however that the push for better quality isn't necessarily something that UK consumers need to worry about at the moment. It is really just another way for manufacturers to convince us of upgrading our current DVD library once again.

Here in the UK the demand for High Definition Television (HDTV) isn't as high as in America or Japan due to the quality of our television signal compared to other countries.

Marketing pressure from big electronics manufacturers will probably try and change our perception over the next couple of years. This will no doubt affect sales and uptake in this country, because to benefit from High Definition discs whether they are Blu-ray or HD DVD you'll need a High Definition television set - something, which at the moment are few and far between.

Unlike DVD players, which you can pick up in your local supermarket for under £30, the new technology will require you to upgrade your television as well to support the higher definition signal

Confused yet?
It's early days in the high definition format war. With announcements being made from both camps on almost a daily basis it seems we have a long way to go before a format win outs. One thing is for sure though. Unless the industry decide sooner rather than later not only will consumers be confused, but like DVD recorders it will take a long time to catch on.