Warner Bros. recently filed a patent application for a new type of DVD that could end the next generation DVD format war before it begins.
Blending aspects of the new HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies, the proposed discs would be playable in both types of players, eliminating the need for consumers to invest in one format over the other.
"If they can come up with the technology and figure out a way to create a hybrid disc, that would go a long way with consumers unsure about which direction to go in," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director for Jupiter Research.
Proponents of high-definition DVDs argue that the improved picture quality and increased storage capacity of the discs make them a worthwhile investment for HD TV owners, and justifies the price of having to invest in updating their DVD libraries.
But others argue that a high-end current generation DVD player, which costs significantly less, will generate a picture that's just as good, without forcing one to repurchase movies consumers already own.
The discs are only in development right now and are not likely to be released anytime soon. For consumers unsure about which technology to invest in, though, the introduction of a hybrid DVD format could ease concerns and confusion.
Because high-definition DVD formats require new players and new discs, the price tag associated with jumping into the next generation can be staggering.
Current Blu-ray and HD DVD players range in price from about $500 to $1,000 with discs generally costing over $25.
"Until something shakes out in the marketplace, consumers for the most part are going to wait this one out," Gartenberg said.
The keys to success for the two formats are support from movie studios and retailers, and the ability to manufacture the players and discs to keep the price low and store shelves stocked.
"Either we'll see the center of gravity tilt in one direction or specific titles will draw interest or studios will throw weight behind one format or the other or price point will drop," he said.
But Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research, says his company has already crowned a prospective winner -- Blu-ray -- and doesn't think we're going to see a universal disc like the one Warner Bros. is working on.
"I think we'll see a universal player before we see universal disc," Schadler said. "It's very hard to produce Blu-ray and HD DVDs, so it must be even harder to produce a hybrid disc."
Though he thinks it's a good idea, Schadler points out that Warner Bros. engineers have only filed a patent application and that it can take years for a product to be granted a patent and get to market, and that many don't make it there at all.
He says that aside from having a great deal of support from studios, retailers and manufacturers, one big reason Forrester believes the Blu-ray will rule the high-definition DVD market is Sony's Playstation 3.
When the PS3 hits retail stores in North America on Nov. 17, the video game console will feature a built-in Blu-ray player.
"They plan on selling a couple of million of those by the end of January," he said. "No way they can sell a couple of million HD DVD players within the same time frame."
Though Microsoft plans to release an HD DVD add-on for owners of the Xbox 360, Schadler doubts it'll give HD DVD the push it needs to overtake Blu-ray.