At the WPC EXPO 2004 show in Tokyo, Toshiba and NEC announced support for the HD DVD standard in their notebook computers.

Toshiba said it would launch a high-end notebook with an HD DVD drive around the end of next year. It would be priced the same as a current DVD drive-equipped notebook or less. NEC will also introduce an HD DVD-equipped notebook.

One issue is that not all notebook suppliers have signed up to support HD DVD. In fact Sony and Matsushita (Panasonic) support the rival BluRay standard. The industry could face a re-run of the VHS vs Betamax video tape format war with the business laptop as a battleground. This will be disruptive to business notebook customers.

Notebook vendors generally believe that notebook computers need to be able to store tens of gigabytes of high-definition multimedia files using compression standards such as MPEG-4. The ordinary DVD holds 4.7GB. Even in double layer, double-sided format it will only hold about 19GB. They foresee a need for around 100GB ultimately.

By using narrower laser beams, smaller pits can be burned on an optical disc leading to higher data capacity. Such a laser uses blue-coloured light, hence Blu-ray, compared to a DVD's reddish laser light.

The resulting disks will be used in consumer electronics devices as well, a vast market, and this is the reason for the competing standards. Whichever format becomes the standard, the owners of that standard hope to make huge profits from licensing fees. Sony, promoting its Betamax standard, lost out to VHS in the video tape format area. Fortunately, that didn't affect business computer users.

Neither have they been much affected by competition in the mini-disk and memory card areas. However, Sony has shown its desire to make its own way in the tape arena where it left the DDS group to promote its own AIT and Super AIT formats. This doesn't affect business users much as we are used to competing tape format standards already.

Not so with optical disks where CD and DVD rule, on servers there are Magneto-optical drives for archiving. Plasmon with UDO and Sony with its Professional Disk for Data are competing in this archive arena with blue laser-type products.

But that is servers. Until now such format wars have not affected notebook users.

Sony now owns MGM pictures and has a need to promote optical disk sales of MGM's film library. The world of consumer electronics and entertainment is impinging on the business notebook customer. Sony has said it will use Blu-ray in the forthcoming PlayStation 3 console.

HD DVD is a 20GB capacity format which could, via multiple layers hold more than 50GB. The format is certified by the DVD Forum.

Blu-ray is the Sony-supported format and holds 25GB in single layer form, but with two layers and double-sided recording, could hold 100GB. Such capacities mean high-definition movies could be stored.

Both the Blu-ray group and the HD DVD groups are canvassing support. Blu-ray supporters include Hitachi, JVC, LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Zenith. Blu-ray recorders are already on the market. HD-DVD devices exist only in prototype form.

HD DVD disks are robust enough not to need a cartridge, which makes drives thinner, and they can be readily made on existing DVD production lines.

HD DVD supporters Toshiba and NEC are canvassing Microsoft to support HD DVD in its next-generation Xbox games console. Memory-Tech and Sanyo are also, with NEC and Toshiba, in the HD DVD Promotion Group. An official organisation supporting it is scheduled to launch next spring.

If Sony and other Blu-ray supporters launch Blu-ray drive-equipped notebook computers then we are in for a pretty direct re-run of the VHS vs Betamax format war. So far no Blu-ray supporting notebook manufacturer has announced a Blu-ray-equipped notebook.