Agreement within the consortium of large manufacturers backing the DVD-Ram drive standard collapsed yesterday, after Sony and Philips said they would go it alone. That will spark a format war, with remaining consortium members Matsushita, Toshiba and Hitachi certain to fight back.
Hewlett-Packard, a member of the original consortium, said it would back Sony and Philips.
An accord between the 10 members of the consortium was thrashed out in April after long standing battles between Toshiba and Sony over the format. That followed an extended argument, prompted by Hollywood, over encryption standards and measures to prevent pirating of movies.
The Sony-Philips-HP troika is developing a 3Gbytes drive, while Matsushita and the others in their camp are going for the 2.6Gbytes format.
Now the battle lines are drawn, the proponents of the different standards will start to push products to market quickly, said Peter Scatchard, European marketing director of Hitachi.
"It looks to me as if we will see the same muddy waters as we have between the LS150 and the Zip drive in terms of incompatibilities,? he said. ?Clearly, Sony and Philips must be backing the gamble that if they can rush the product through, it will set the standard. That may work if we allow it to, but I doubt we will.?
The move will worry consumers, retailers, vendors and the PC channel, he said. ?This is splitting on the familiar fault line before the DVD consortium was stitched together. There?s no doubt consumers? confidence will be shaken. Maybe, Sony and Philips think that now is the time to make the break for it and establish the standard format.?
But Hitachi, Toshiba and Matsushita are unlikely to swallow that. ?They?re kidding themselves. You may end up with glitchier products than otherwise because the competition is likely to rush products out that may not be ready for the market,? he said.
Both Sony and Philips have a track record of supporting formats that don?t win the day. Sony with Betamax and Philips with its rewritable video disk lost out in the consumer market. HP?s reasons for joining the two manufacturers are more obscure.
What is telling is that Time-Warner, a major player in Hollywood, will remain in the Matsushita camp. Sony?s own Hollywood venture, Sony Studios, is still failing to make a serious contribution to its overall business, as its results showed last week.
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