In a move that could have long-reaching consequences for next-gen video and data-storage technologies, Sony and NEC have established a joint venture merging their optical drive businesses. The joint venture was first proposed last November, and is expected to begin business by April 1. While JVs between competitors are not unheard-of, what makes this one particularly unusual is that Sony is, of course, one of the leaders of the Blu-ray group, while NEC sits squarely in the HD DVD camp. The two companies have made no announcements as to what kind of optical drives the new company -- to be known as Sony NEC Optiarc -- will make, but here's one clue: Sony will have a 55% stake in the $1.9 billion company, and it will be managed by one of Sony's execs. Looks to us like Optiarc is going to be a very Blu company, leaving the HD DVD group with one less key supplier of hardware.