Talks offer in video disc war

STEVE HOMER

Peace is set to break out in what threatened to be one of the most vicious commercial battles of the 1990s. Next year two incompatible digital video disc systems are due to hit the shops but - after a long face-off - it now appears that the competing manufacturers are prepared to compromise.

Both systems will offer over two hours of high quality video on a standard disc, be compatible with audio CDs, play today's video CDs and work with computers.

In one camp the main players are Sony and Philips, who created the audio CD over 10 years ago. Big names in the other include Toshiba, Time Warner and Matsushita, the world's largest electronics company (known for its Panasonic brand).

Both teams have built up an impressive list of supporters from the entertainment, electronics and computing industries. But each has refused to have any meaningful discussions with the other.

Until now. At a press conference in Berlin on the eve of Europe's largest consumer electronics show Philips admitted that it had written to the opposing camp suggesting talks leading to a single format.

The catalyst was a report earlier this month from a group representing all the major computer companies which said that either format was fine as far as the computer industry was concerned. But two formats would confuse the customers.

Should serious talks get under way the big question will be availability. Toshiba and Time Warner are committed to mid-1996 while Philips and Sony plan to launch later in the year - in time for Christmas.

Even if one format can be agreed, consumers still face years of confusion. A couple of years after the initial launch, a recordable version will go on sale, then a higher density version. The demise of video tape is not imminent.

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