Fox trots towards Blu-ray

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. has joined the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), but the Hollywood film studio has stopped short of committing to releasing its movies on the Blu-ray Disc format, the company said Monday.

"We are not ready at this time to commit any of our content to this format," said Michael O'Neill, special advisor at the company's Fox Technology Group. He spoke at a press event before the inaugural meeting of the association that began in Tokyo on Monday.

Fox has become a member of the association to study the format and develop copyright protection technologies to prevent illegal copying of Blu-ray discs, he said.

"The only agreement is to collaborate with work to help develop the format. We are very positive about the possibilities down the road," O'Neill said.

The move lends significant support to the Blu-ray Disc format against the HD-DVD (High Definition/High Density-DVD) version as both camps seek to build alliances with manufacturers and major studios, according to Sony Corp. senior vice president Kiyoshi Nishitani.

Monday's meeting was the first of a revamped version of the Blu-ray Disc Founders association. That body was a group of 13 companies lead by Sony Corp. The other members were Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Ltd., LG Electronics Inc., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Philips Electronics NV, Pioneer Electronics Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Sharp Corp., TDK Corp. and Thomson Multimedia SA.

Fox has become the 14th board member of the BDA, which replaces the founders association. The goal of the association is to promote the technology to become the de facto standard for very high capacity next-generation DVDs. Fox distributes several important franchises including 'Titanic' and 'Star Wars.'

"This has a very strong meaning for the BDA. Fox is a prominent member of the Hollywood world. Package media is now a key area, and that will lead to the development of other areas," Nishitani said.

The Blu-ray Disc Association said it had 73 members as of Oct. 4.

Sony has a large back-catalog of movies that it could chose to release on Blu-ray Disc. Last month Sony bought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., adding to its existing catalog. Later last month, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) said that the PlayStation 3 game console will be compatible with the Blu-ray Disc format.

Against this, the rival HD-DVD format was initially backed by NEC Corp. and Toshiba Corp. In August, Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. said that it had also decided to produce components and players for the format, making the company the third major Japanese electronics company to join the HD-DVD camp.

Late last month these companies, together with DVD disc maker Memory-Tech Corp., announced that they would form their own association. Toshiba said that it expected to start commercial sales of HD-DVD players and recorders in the final three months of 2005, with players to cost under US$1,000.

The technical specifications of the HD-DVD format are also almost complete. At the end of last month, the DVD Forum, an association of over 220 consumer electronics, entertainment, software and related companies that determines DVD disc specifications, approved the physical disc specifications for the rewritable version of HD-DVDs, taking the format an important step nearer to mass production.

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