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Sony May Unite Blu-ray Disc, HD-DVD

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After more than a year of touting Blu-ray Disc as the best technology
to replace DVD for storing high-definition video, a top executive at
Sony, one of Blu-ray's major backers, has opened the door to the
possibility of unifying the format with its arch rival, HD-DVD.

"Listening to the voice of the consumers, having two rival formats is
disappointing and we haven't totally given up on the possibility of
integration or compromise," Ryoji Chubachi, Sony's president-elect,
said at a news conference Thursday in which he discussed the company's
performance and future strategy.

The statement may surprise backers of the rival camps, who have
assembled consortiums of major electronics companies, disc makers, and
Hollywood studios to promote the formats in a battle that echoes one
fought a quarter of a century ago between Betamax and VHS.

HD-DVD backers, which include NEC and Toshiba, say HD-DVDs can be
produced for about the same price as DVDs and are backward-compatible
with DVDs and CDs, making the format more convenient for both
consumers and the industry. HD-DVD movie titles, PC drives, and
players are all due out by the end of the year.

Sony has steadfastly promoted Blu-ray as a technology that has greater
capacity, saying this makes the format more useful because more
content can be stored on a disc. The technology also has wider support
in the technology industry, although release dates for movie titles
have not yet been announced.

Reaching a Compromise

Chubachi's comments mark the second time that a Sony executive has
signaled the possibility of a compromise between the two camps. In
January, Ken Kutaragi, executive deputy president of Sony, said a
format war was not in the public interest and that Sony had not ruled
out the possibility of uniting the formats.

As Sony's future president, Chubachi's remarks Thursday may carry more
weight. Currently head of Sony's electronic components and
manufacturing businesses, he will replace Kunitake Ando as Sony
president on June 22 following the recent shake-up of Sony's top
management. That shake-up saw Kutaragi step down from Sony's board,
although he still heads its important gaming business.

Kutaragi also admitted in January that Sony, by supporting its
proprietary audio encoding system and not the widely-supported MP3
format, had lost ground to competitors such as Apple Computer in the
portable music player market, which Sony had once dominated with the

While Sony's technological and engineering base is sound, the company
must ensure that its products are aligned with the wants of consumers,
Chubachi said. Sony's engineers have traditionally been regarded
within the company as heroes and the creators of new markets, but
recently their ideas have not always led to products that matched
consumers' needs, he said.

"Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game
because they almost always turn out to be -- or to be indistinguishable from
-- self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time."
- Neil Stephenson, _Cryptonomicon_
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