Toshiba has developed a prototype HD-DVD disc that increases the format's storage capacity by 50 per cent and brings it much closer to that of the rival Blu-ray Disc, the company said Tuesday.

The new disc has a capacity of 45GB, which is just under the 50GB offered by a dual-layer Blu-ray Disc, and will give content producers additional space to store longer high-definition movies or additional multimedia content.

Toshiba accomplished the capacity jump by adding an extra data storage layer to the disc. Each HD-DVD layer has a capacity of 15GB and the new disc packs three such layers.

Transitional plans

The company also announced a second prototype disc that uses the same basic technology. The hybrid disc combines a dual-layer HD-DVD with a dual-layer DVD to provide a double-sided disc that can be played in either HD-DVD or DVD players. The disc could be used as a transitional format enabling consumers to buy discs for use in DVD players while building up a library of high-definition content for the time when they purchase an HD-DVD player.

More details on the two discs will be announced on Wednesday at the Media-Tech Expo 2005 exhibition in Las Vegas.

Peace in our time?

The announcement could give Toshiba a boost in ongoing talks with Blu-ray Disc-supporters Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) regarding a single, unified high-definition video disc standard.

The talks began earlier this year and are aimed at heading off what many expect will be a damaging format battle that will harm both consumers and the consumer electronics and entertainment industries.

The current state of the talks is unknown. However, a report in the Tuesday morning edition of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily said an agreement between the two sides could come as soon as next week. It reported that Toshiba, Sony and Panasonic are discussing using Toshiba's software technology and the Blu-ray Disc structure, the latter because of its greater storage capacity.

Toshiba reacted fast to the report and said "absolutely no decision has been made for unification on any basis" and called the report's claims "unfounded and erroneous."

Whatever the eventual outcome of the talks, time is running out for both sides.

The HD-DVD group said in January that it plans to have players and content available in US stores in the last quarter of this year, and the first machine to support prerecorded Blu-ray Disc is expected to be announced next week, when Sony Computer Entertainment shows off a prototype of its next-generation PlayStation 3. The console and other Blu-ray Disc players aren't expected to be commercially available until 2006.