Vendors mull separate regional DVD formats

Bowing to concerns among motion picture companies, several key developers of Digital Video Disk (DVD) technology may not sell DVD players and drives that conform to a single, global standard when the next-generation system debuts later this year.

Bowing to concerns among motion picture companies, several key developers of Digital Video Disk (DVD) technology may not sell DVD players and drives that conform to a single, global standard when the next-generation system debuts later this year.

Instead, the companies may offer regionally specific drives that are not compatible with content from other regions, sources have confirmed.

Under the proposed plan, each region would have a unique "regional code" that would allow only software and content that is based on that code to be played on DVD hardware in that region, spokesmen for the companies says.

Among the hardware vendors that are considering the regional plan are Toshiba and Matsushita, spokespeople at the companies say. Sony, meanwhile, is opposed to the plan, according to a report in the June 8 issue of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's leading business daily. A Sony spokesman could not comment on his company's position.

Though many in the industry oppose the scheme on grounds that it would raise costs, motion picture studios are said to be the biggest proponents of the regional codes, observers say.

"Movie companies are reluctant to release content in DVD format unless they can continue with the way they have traditionally been doing business," says David Kellar, vice-president for alliance strategy at Tokyo-based consultancy AMI.

That way of doing business means having the ability to stagger the release dates of movies and videos worldwide, a power the studios believe could be challenged by a single, globally standard DVD player, Kellar says.

In addition, proponents argue that the regional codes would also deter piracy of content, he says.

According to the June 8 report, Matsushita has already decided to make regionally specific drives. A spokeswoman has since denied denied the report. "The DVD licensing consortium of electronic makers, software companies and Hollywood are still discussing the issue of regional specifications, but no decision has been made on Matsushita's part," she says.

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