From the Top: Toshiba's Mark Whittard - High definition format wars and new technologies

From the Top: Toshiba's Mark Whittard - High definition format wars and new technologies

As one of the founding vendors behind high-definition DVD technology, Toshiba is heavily involved in the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray.

In the final part of an in-depth interview, Toshiba information systems division general manager, Mark Whittard, talks to ARN's NADIA CAMERON about next-generation digital video content as well as the vendor's broader product roadmap.

The next-generation DVD war is heating up between HD DVD and Blu-ray. Are we going to end up with two standards?

Mark Whittard, Toshiba (MW): In the short-term, I think they'll exist side-by-side. Everyone draws the analogy to beta and VHS and, as have seen, sometimes the best technology doesn't win out. A number of movie houses started in the Blu-ray camp and are now going for both standards. Six or 12 months ago, it looked like Blu-ray was going to win, but now I don't know which way it's going to go globally. If you take out PlayStation 3 sales, which aren't really devices people buy to watch movies, HD DVD players are outshipping Blu-ray players - in the US, it's 55:45, in Europe it's 73 per cent HD DVD. I don't have any local stats, but it's around 50/50 if you take out PS3.

Surely it creates challenges for the industry to have two standards?

MW: It does, but again it's driving the customer to purchase new technology. For a retailer, what they should be doing first is selling the benefits of next-generation DVD and what it gives the customer. It's early days yet - you can't possible predict what will happen in the next couple of years. HD DVD has some technology advantages over Blu-ray around interactivity for example, which allows you to go directly to websites from a movie. That opens up commercial potential for the software development guys. It also has cost savings because it is built on the same platters as DVDs. The other thing is you can't have combo format in Blu-ray, but with HD you can. As the volumes start to increase, this will become a big issue for retailers. But then, Blu-ray has technical pluses too.

What does Toshiba's product roadmap look like for the next couple of years?

MW: It's very exciting. We refresh our notebooks every two months because something is always changing, particularly at the retail and SMB end. Everything is getting bigger, faster, cheaper, lighter, thinner, with longer battery life. We've just announced a 320GB hard disc for notebooks, so you're going to see half a terabyte drive soon.

You need to understand what drives that - screen technology will continue to get clearer, crisper and brighter. High-definition image viewing sucks up a lot of power, so that's driving battery improvements. In home entertainment scenarios, it's about the manipulation of your personal data. That's driving component advancements and the software that goes with it, the high-bandwidth pipe to the Internet to download and receive this sort of content and compression capabilities. Sound is also becoming important and more vendors are putting better speakers into their products. With our top-end products today you can get 5.1 surround sound.

On the business side it's security, quality and reliability - we've seen products that were considered thin but fragile become robust. There's magnesium aluminium chassis, screen protection, and we're also seeing solid-state hard drives - we introduced the first in our Portege R500 recently.

The convergence of technology means the divergence of product. If it's for entertainment, people want something with a massive screen or that hooks into their TV, has an HD DVD recorder and massive hard drive. A business user is after portability, security and longer battery life. You're also going to see really small and thin products coming out - tablets, all-in-ones - and purpose-built products like ruggedised notebooks for outdoor work. We have an all-weather PC coming as well.

For us, there's several component technologies driving product development: fuel cells are the next major quantum leap in battery life. Screen technology is another: today, most vendors have silicon glass backlit by fluorescent tubes, but the problem is if you flex the screen you can crack the tubes. The lids also need to be thicker to accommodate that. We've started introducing LED backlighting which gives you the same brightness if not more, more efficient battery usage, and thinner and more robust screens. The next step is organic light-emitting diode [OLED] displays. It's more natural colours and closer to what the human eye sees, which means it's less stress on the eyes. And it will, ultimately, be a much greener device. Beyond that is the TV technology, surface conduction electron-emitter display [SED], which is more for big-screen form factors.

Traditional mechanical drives will all go to solid-state - that's just going leaps and bounds in terms of capacity. This will happen over the next 3-5 years.

With the transition from analogue to high-definition content and the issues around capacity, we, in conjunction with IBM and others, have come up with a cell CPU specifically for searching and managing digital content. That's something you could use in the home to pull up information very quickly. There are a lot of smarts coming with that.

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