Top Sony exec hints at Blu-ray, HD-DVD detente

'We haven't totally given up on the possibility of ... compromise,' he says

After more than a year of touting Blu-ray as the best technology to replace DVD for storing high-definition video Sony Corp., 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 today 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 Corp. and Toshiba Corp., 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.

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 wasn't in the public interest and that Sony hadn't ruled out the possibility of uniting the formats.

As Sony's future president, Chubachi's remarks 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 management shuffle saw Kutaragi step down from Sony's board, although he still heads its important gaming business.

Kutaragi also acknowledged 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 Inc. in the portable music-player market, which Sony had once dominated with the Walkman.

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 this week. Sony's engineers have traditionally been regarded within the company as heroes and the creators of new markets, but recently their ideas haven't necessarily led to products that matched consumers' needs, he said.

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