Blu-ray Disc, one of two formats being promoted as a replacement for today's DVDs, picked up support this week from Lions Gate Home Entertainment and Universal Music Group.

Lions Gate said it will release movies, television shows and other titles on Blu-ray Disc when compatible players are launched in North America. At present such players are expected to be available sometime in 2006 although no manufacturer has announced a more specific launch date.

The recent adoption by the Blu-ray Disc Association, the format's standards-setting body, of a content protection and management system was cited by Lions Gate as being important in its decision. The system combines Advanced Access Content System (AACS) with "BD+", a system that allows the protection system to be renewed should it be compromised, and "ROM Mark," which is intended to guard against mass production piracy or duplication.

Pick your format, confused consumers told

When Blu-ray Disc hardware comes out it is likely to immediately begin competing with HD-DVD-based equipment. HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba, NEC and the DVD standards group, is expected to first appear in stores before the end of this year but again specific launch dates haven't been disclosed. The amount of hardware or software that will be available at launch is similarly unknown at present.

Blu-ray Disc is backed by a much larger number of companies including some big-name vendors like Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), Samsung Electronics, Dell, HP, Apple and Koninklijke Philips Electronics.

Content drives adoption

Content makers are more evenly split between the two formats.

HD-DVD counts support from Warner Home Video, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures Corp.

On the Blu-ray Disc side are Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Pictures and Television, Sony's Pictures group and now Lions Gate.

Despite these initial pledges of support, most providers have said they stand to release content on the competing format should it begin to become popular.

Universal Music Group announced earlier in the week that it has joined the Blu-ray Disc Association, the format's standards-setting body, as a contributing member. As such the company, in return for a $20,000 annual fee, can participate in group meetings, board meetings, seminars and play a part in creating standards.

Universal Music Group, which is a unit of Vivendi Universal, stopped short of saying it would release products on Blu-ray Disc.