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New DVD format says it offers cheaper choice than Blu-ray

Email|Print| Text size + By Eric A. Taub
New York Times News Service / March 10, 2008

No sooner has the battle for the next-generation high-definition DVD format ended, with Blu-ray triumphing over HD DVD, than a new contender has emerged.

A new system that is incompatible with Blu-ray, called HD VMD, for versatile multilayer disc, is trying to find a niche. New Medium Enterprises, the London company behind HD VMD, says its system's quality is equal to Blu-ray's, but it costs less. By undercutting the competition in production, replication, and hardware costs, it thinks it can find a market among consumers with less disposable income, particularly outside the United States.

An HD VMD player costs less than a Blu-ray because it uses the red-laser technologies found in today's standard-definition DVD players. The Blu-ray and HD DVD machines use a more expensive blue-laser system. "We do not intend to take on Blu-ray," said Shirly Levich, New Medium's vice president and product development manager, in an e-mail message. "We see VMD as a natural extension of mass market DVD product enhanced to HD capabilities. We shall not rekindle the format war."

The industry and consumers may not see it that way, given that the company is promoting its price advantages. While Blu-ray players typically cost more than $300, an HD VMD unit is priced at $199. Sales through Amazon are scheduled to begin in five weeks, the company said. No talks have been held with the big-box retailers to carry the product.

New Medium thinks its secret weapon is Michael Jay Solomon, one of Hollywood's best-known film distributors, who has been named its chairman.

Although he has yet to approach the studios, Solomon, a former president of Warner Bros. International Television, said his long tenure in the industry would help him succeed in licensing movies for HD VMD. "It's a combination of my good experiences and continual relationships," Solomon said in a telephone interview from Shanghai, where he was visiting with company engineers.

No matter how cheap a player is, it is useless unless major movies are released using its format. To date, New Medium has come up short. Just 17 movies are available to customers in the United States at the company's online store.

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