Paramount,Universal, Warner Bros, New Line, HBO and Toshiba have thrown their weightbehind the new generation HD DVD technology, endorsed by the DVD Forumcomprising studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and IT industry leaders.

It is understoodthe new HD discs will be created by the studios while Toshiba will manufacturethe HD DVD players. HD DVDs offer enhanced picture quality, stronger contentprotection - one of the studios' chief concerns these days - and advancednavigation tools and interactive features.

The announcementyesterday did not include Fox, Disney or Sony, the last of whom is at theforefront of a rival technology called Blu-ray and leads a consortium thatrecently acquired MGM.

The deal isnon-exclusive, allowing the three studios the option of using Blu-raytechnology should it be ready in time and prove to be a viable alternative.

Rob Friedman,Paramount chief operating officer and vice chairman of the motion picturegroup, told Screen the studio aimed to soft launch in the fourth quarter of2005 with an official launch set for early 2006.

"We think the opportunityto have our content displayed on HD format is too exciting to pass up,"Friedman said. "It's the next generation for the consumer to see our movies."

He would notconfirm which titles would be released when the service launches, howeverParamount's tentpole 2005 release - The War Of The Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg andstarring Tom Cruise - would clearly be a major draw.

Warner Bros and its Time Warner sister divisions New LineCinema and HBO are also on board. "Warner Home Video's strategy is tooffer our broad range of programmes on the most compelling platforms," JimCardwell, president of Warner Home Video, said in a statement.

"HD DVD deliversthe next-generation technology and the right combination of consumer andmulti-industry benefits. As content suppliers, we want to offer consumers thebest video and audio quality available, with advanced content access, newnavigation features and enough capacity that programming options are almostlimitless.

UniversalPictures president and chief operating officer Rick Finkelstein added: "Asa content-based company, we are always looking for new ways to deliver ourfilms and television programmes to consumers in a high quality, secure and userfriendly manner. We believe HD-DVD achieves all of these goals."

Universal saidit would aim to release its first wave of HD DVDs in the 2005 holiday season.

The progress ofBlu-ray technology, whose discs are believed to hold more information than HDDVD and is expected to be ready in 2006, will be followed closely by everystudio.

It is understoodthat Blu-Ray has more manufacturers and consumer electronics partners on board.

Sony and Fox hadnot returned calls at time of writing, however a statement issued by Disneyread: "We consider the next generation of DVDs to be a critical step inexpanding the home entertainment market and providing consumers even moreentertainment choices.

"We have beenactively engaged in the development of the emerging format proposals, but arenot prepared to discuss our product plans yet."