Berlin - Not long ago, both parties were smugly predicting that the movie-disc war between the Blu-ray and the HD DVD camp would be over in 2008, but it has not played out that way. By Renate Grimming
The top manufacturers are still slugging it out as the IFA fair, Europe's biggest consumer-electronics event, prepares to open August 31 in Berlin.
The discs are a successor to today's DVD movie discs, offering more detailed pictures for big home screens.
At IFA, the two rival industry groups can both be expected to announce new tactical gains, bright sales figures and supreme confidence that victory is near, but a closer look will show neither has a commanding lead.
The battle is still in full swing, admits Frank Eschholz, a German executive at Toshiba which is a leader of the HD DVD camp.
Supply of both HD DVD and Blu-ray players has improved and new features will appear on the models unveiled at IFA. From a shopper's point of view, both types of player are equally good at playing movies and high-definition TV programmes saved on disc.
The conventional wisdom in the industry is that the format with the biggest range of movies on offer will win out, leaving the losing format to slowly die out as it becomes uneconomic.
That explains the significance of reports this week that Paramount and DreamWorks Animation have agreed to release movies on HD DVD exclusively for 18 months in a cruel blow to Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray camp, which includes consumer-electronics manufacturers Sony, Philips and Panasonic, claims its players have access to a bigger library of movies.
According to the Blu-ray Disc Association, 67 per cent of high-definition titles available at the start of July in Britain, France and Spain were being sold by the studios in Blu-ray (BD) format.
It noted that half of Sony Pictures titles were available in Blu-ray format. Next year, Hollywood studio Disney will reinforce the Blu-ray camp with BD releases of Finding Nemo and The Chronicles of Narnia.
"HD DVD is definitely on the path to defeat," asserts a spokesman for Sony Germany.
On the other hand Home Media Magazine, a periodical that tracks US disc sales, reports that the biggest seller currently by a long shot is 300, last year's Warner Brothers' epic about the Battle of Thermopylae, which is being marketed in both formats.
Toshiba executive Eschholz concedes that top Blu-ray releases have scored better this year in many markets, but says HD DVD players have been way ahead in Germany, Europe's biggest single market, at 82 per cent of sales.
He said that among new-generation players in Europe as a whole, the HD DVD machines, which are cheaper than comparable Blu-ray models, were scoring somewhat more than 70 per cent, though the overall sales figure remains tiny.
HD DVD players have been way ahead in Germany, Europe's biggest single market, at 82 per cent of sales.
Moreover independent movie studios, which overwhelmingly support HD DVD, were much stronger in European markets with around 40 per cent of sales, Eschholz added.
European sales of high-definition discs are also being restrained by the laggardly conversion of the continent's television channels from traditional PAL-based signals to the new high-definition TV.
With seven Japanese channels transmitting HDTV so far, Japanese consumers are better able to see the benefits of high definition pictures and the discs that provide them.
Home users will also be able to see the better quality if they buy Hitachi's new camcorder to be released at IFA. The Japanese maker's device records video of the kids, spots and all, on Blu-ray.
Samsung will play mediator at IFA, unveiling a hybrid player that can handle both Blu-ray and HD DVD.
"Currently only about one fifth of titles are available on both BD and HD DVD, so you really need this," explains Mike Henkelmann, a German executive for the South Korean company.
The Samsung player goes on sale in Europe late this year, joining other hybrid players such as that from LG Electronics. Samsung says its device is the first to handle interactive content in both formats.
Hybrid machines naturally cost more than one-format players.
The rivals believe that if movie releases do not decide the war, a victory could be scored with gaming consoles.
Sony's PlayStation 3 comes out of the box with a Blu-ray drive that can also play movies, while Microsoft, a supporter of HD DVD, is offering an add-on drive for its Xbox 360 console.
Matt Brown, head of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, says sales of Blu-ray discs in Europe soared 1,000 per cent after the PlayStation 3 went on sale there in March.
Toshiba's Eschholz retorts that only one disc was being sold for every PlayStation that left the stores, whereas HD DVD sales outnumbered sales of the Xbox drive accessory five to one.
At that point the battle of statistics becomes abstruse.
Sony is pushing the PlayStation as a television viewing device, announcing in Leipzig, Germany this week an add-on module dubbed PlayTV that makes the console a tuner and personal video recorder as well.
However there are reports that not very many game-console owners actually use the devices to watch movies.
A survey by NPD Group pollsters in the United States found 40 per cent of PS3 owners had never even discovered that their consoles could play movies.