Is Toshiba rebooting the format war?

In the aftermath of Blu-ray’s victory over HD DVD, Toshiba doesn’t seem to be taking things lying down. It's hatching a plan for optical storage.

This has, understandably, been met with some scepticism. Upscaling a DVD quality image to one with more than double the resolution has proven to be a hit and miss affair already. Sure, it makes your DVDs look a little better, but in a side-by-side with a native 1080p video transfer and there's no comparison whatsoever.

However, the new technology that Toshiba is widely reported to have up its sleeve contains an integrated circuit that can immediately upscale DVD visual output to 1080p. The firm is expected to launch this into the marketplace by the end of the year, with full backwards compatibility, as you'd expect, with the DVD format.

Full detail is lacking in lieu of any kind of official announcement, but what does seem clear is that this is going to be positioned against Blu-ray in some way. If Toshiba could convince the buying public that its cheaper product can offer Blu-ray standard output, then it may still have a part to play in the high definition format war after all.

But should it? Firstly, no matter how strong the upscaling work that Toshiba has been beavering away on proves to be, there's still quite rightly a lot of cynicism over any kind of technology that digitally fills in the resolution gaps in a picture. Ask digital photographers all about it.

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To be fair, it may prove that there's more than can be got out of a standard DVD, and that may satiate a segment of the mass market looking for some half-way house between DVD and Blu-ray. After all, the standard CD has seen its fair share of evolutions over the years (although none of them proved to be particularly groundbreaking), and an evolved DVD which you would suspect wouldn't play in older DVD machines has some potential to it..

Convincing

But it's going to take some convincing that this is any kind of Blu-ray killer, or even a worthy competitor for the format. Worse, to many it does Toshiba no favours at all. The image of it championing an evolution to an existing format as a HD competitor and potentially prolonging a battle which, to all intents and purposes, it lost, is not really a positive one.

It's also one unlikely to garner much support from those who ultimately swing which way a format battle goes the major film studios who are keen to be unified behind a single next-generation technology in a bid to make up for the declining revenues from DVD. Let's not forget too that over the last year or so, many of these companies have been burnt to some extent by the failure of HD DVD, and may not be keen to place their chips on Toshiba's square again in the immediate future.

Toshiba, of course, could pull a rabbit out of the hat, and genuinely deliver a seismic shift in what we can expect from a DVD. But it's unlikely. In fact, the bigger threat for the Blu-ray camp would seem to be a mixture of apathy, and the impending digital download explosion, which always seems to be around the corner, but never seems to come. Toshiba, right now, is simply unlikely to be on Sony's radar anymore.

And for Toshiba? This is, however you look at it, a risky strategy. Whether it proves bold or foolish remains to be seen, but there's a sneaking suspicion that few in the entertainment industry are welcoming the news that the high-definition market may be called to arms once more. Not least because a lot of balance sheets are still hurting from the last one....

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