Paramount Home Entertainment has decided to back both horses in the next-generation DVD wars, offering movies in both formats.

High-definition versions of Paramount's movies will be available in both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc, the company said Sunday.

The announcement makes Viacom subsidiary Paramount the first major content provider to publicly support both formats and comes as the two competing high-definition video-disc systems prepare for commercial launch.

Will this struggle be televised?

Until now major content providers and equipment makers have expressed a preference for one or the other format and thus set the stage for a format fight that many are comparing to the VHS versus Betamax battle of the 1970s and 1980s.

Both formats offer significantly more storage capacity than current discs: HD-DVD provides 15GB or 30GB and Blu-ray Disc 25GB or 50GB, depending on the disc. but the two are incompatible with each other due to a difference in the depth of the recording layer inside the disc. HD-DVD follows DVD and puts the recording layer midway through the disc while Blu-ray Disc has it much closer to the surface.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the players

Paramount was one of the first major content providers to back HD-DVD, a format developed by Toshiba and NEC and backed by the DVD Forum. Other major backers include Warner Home Video, New Line Cinema, HBO, Universal Pictures and Sanyo Electric. Last week both Intel and Microsoft announced support for HD-DVD.

Blu-ray Disc is backed by a much larger number of equipment makers including Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), Samsung Electronics, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Koninklijke Philips Electronics. Content provider support has come from Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Pictures, Lions Gate Home Entertainment and Universal Music Group.

Recognizing that consumers will be forced to chose between the formats should they want to watch high-definition movies at home, Paramount decided to make content available on both formats.

PlayStation v Xbox in next-gen war?

Support for Blu-ray Disc, particularly in the PlayStation 3 games console, was influential in the decision to also offer Blu-ray Disc content, Paramount said in a statement.

The PlayStation 3 is expected sometime in the first half of 2006 and could be a cheap way for consumers to get a high-definition disc player. If that happens it would mirror the PlayStation 2, which was purchased by many because at launch time it was cheaper than many DVD players on the market yet offered the same DVD playback features.

"After a detailed assessment and new data on cost, manufacturability and copy-protection solutions, we have now made the decision to move ahead with the Blu-ray format," Paramount said.