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EU Unofficially Probing HD DVD, Blu-ray

According to Reuters, the European Commission has requested information from the developers of the rival Blu-ray and HD DVD next-generation disc formats, but noted the request is not the start of a formal investigation. Instead, the EC is looming into whether the licensing terms of the new DVD formats are in violation of EU competition regulations.

The EC declined to from which companies it was requesting information, or which licenses were the focus of its inquiry. Being similar in many respects, both disc formats involve licensing of component technologies (such as the Advanced Access Content System, or AACS in addition to the format license itself. Sony confirmed it has received the requests and was cooperating with regulators, noting in a statement, “There are no indications of any complaint, nor of any antitrust concerns on the part of the Commission or anyone else.”

If the EC uncovers questionable practices in the licensing terms, it may launch a formal inquiry; otherwise, the matter will likely be set aside. If an investigation were to focus on only one disk format and not the other, it may give the “unencumbered” format an edge in market adoption. The European Commission doesn’t necessarily mess around with antitrust matters: earlier this month, it levied a $357 million fine on Microsoft for violating terms of a 2004 antitrust settlement, and is threatening €3 million per diem fines if Microsoft doesn’t comply by July 31, 2006.

HD DVD is expected to debut in Europe in time for the end-of-year holidays; Blu-ray is expected to reach European markets in early 2007.