For the past few years, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held annually in January at Las Vegas, has been a PR and marketing battleground for HD DVD and Blu-ray. The HD DVD camp has always been low key, adopting the "under promise and over deliver" mentality, as most underdogs generally do. The Blu-ray camp, leveraging their vast consumer electronics (CE) and content support, uses CES to flood the media channels and flex their muscle. This year was no different. Let's examine each camp on their merits.


Blu-ray Hardware

Samsung was the first to showcase their upcoming Generation 2 player called the BD-P1200 for a list price of $799. This player is set to debut in June and features a Silicon Optix HQV video processor (likely the Realta). Sony displayed their Generation 2 players codenamed "Sapphire 1" and "Sapphire 2." No information was given about these players in regards to price, feature set or release date. Pioneer and Panasonic did not have any Generation 2 announcements or demonstration units.

One piece of hardware clearly missing was a Blu-ray player with full "BD-Live" specification compliance. This spec. is mandatory for all players produced after June 2007, and is the advanced software interactivity layer of Blu-ray. All players released before June 2007 must only be "BD-J" compliant. Additional features of BD-Live -- such as an Ethernet port for downloading content, greater amount of persistent storage (bookmarks and other interactivity), PiP (a proper secondary video) stream -- are all optional on current players with no obligation from a manufacturer to add these features via firmware updates. Clearly, if the player is missing an Ethernet port, a firmware update can only add so much. The PS3 seems likely to be the best option for a BD-Live compliant player until proper players are announced.

Blu-ray Content

While the hardware announcements for standalone players were rather muted, the content announcements really shined for Blu-ray (BR). Disney, Fox, MGM, LionsGate and of course Sony confirmed their sole commitment to Blu-ray and launched an all out assault with very desirable titles set to be launched exclusively on BR during 2007. Notables include: Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and 2, Cars, Casino Royale and many others. Coupled with the format neutral (i.e. supporting both formats) additions of Warner and Paramount, BR certainly continues to have the content advantage going forward.

HD DVD Hardware

The HD DVD camp used CES to gain much needed Hardware support. The addition of Onkyo, Meridian, Lite-on and other Chinese manufacturers, likely influenced by the MS/Broadcom collaboration, should allow for cheaper HD DVD players down the road. HD DVD seems poised to have a full lineup of players, ranging from the entry-level mass-consumer price range, to the very exotic A/V enthusiast-level players, and everything in between. Even though Toshiba recently launched their Generation 2 players with the HD-A2 and HD-XA2, they announced yet another player: the HD-A20, list price $599.

While there was more CE support announced, unfortunately there were no actual demonstrations of these units. However, we should expect them sometime in 2007. Another major hardware announcement made by Toshiba was the discs themselves. Toshiba engineers claim to have altered the manufacturing process to increase the single-layer capacity to 17GB, dual-layer to 34GB and triple-layer to 51GB. This new specification is to be submitted to the DVD Forum for ratification. However, a major concern for current owners is the uncertainty whether these discs will be compatible with current players. Unlike the prior TL45 discs which never made it to the DVD Forum, Toshiba seems very committed to getting the official spec updated with these new HD DVD disc formats.

HD DVD Content

While the HD DVD camp failed to persuade any exclusive BR studios to go neutral, they did gain an advantage in two niche markets, anime and adult entertainment. Bandai, a well known Anime company announced four titles, while Digital Playground, the largest adult entertainment company, matched that with four of their own. How this will affect disc sales in 2007 remains to be seen. For traditional movie content, Warner and Paramount are fully neutral, meaning any titles on HD DVD will be on BR also, and vice versa. This leaves Universal and Weinstein. In interesting move, Universal did not make any formal announcements during CES, except their participation in the HD DVD group promotional conference, which they head. Weinstein has not made any formal announcements either.

LG and the Warner "Total Hi Def" discs

In the days leading up to CES, we learned that LG was going to announce a combo player and Warner had prepared combo discs with HD30 media on one side and BD50 on the other. At CES we saw demonstrations of both products. A critical flaw in the LG player became apparent. The LG player does not support HDi (HD DVD’s interactivity layer) and without full HDi support, their player is not spec compliant; thus they cannot obtain the HD DVD logo or use the name. The only loophole being, within 90 days of release, if the player can be made fully spec compliant via firmware update(s) it may be released with the logo. LG assured however, that they are looking past this player and will have a new player in June 2007 that is fully spec compliant with both HD DVD and BR. With a list price of $1199 and not fully spec compliant, the LG player demonstrated at CES might not be seen as all that desirable considering the Toshiba HD-A2 and a PS3 can be purchased together for that price.

The Warner Total Hi Def discs, which will be used by Warner, New Line Cinema and HBO at some point in 2007, seem to be promising. Warner claims that cost, replication yields and cycle times (the time it takes to make one disc) are not production hurdles. How well either product is received remains to be seen, but it’s important to credit Warner and LG for their efforts to ease consumer confusion.

Looking forward

Yet another CES passes and we’re left with more questions and uncertainty. Will BR's content advantage and the PS3 put an end to this war? Will HD DVD be able to persuade any of the Blu-ray exclusive studios to go neutral? Will combo players and discs rule the future? What effect will the anime and adult entertainment industry have on this war? The BR camp is already claiming victory and the HD DVD forces seem quiet, yet confident, in their resolve. A carbon copy of last year, in respect to mentalities. CEDIA, which is annually held during September, should provide us with more answers, so if you thought this year's CES would be the end of the war, you were sorely mistaken.

Both camps continue to arm themselves for the struggle with no sign of an unconditional surrender in sight. More outside factors have crept in and no one really knows what will be the key turning point in the war. Warner Home Video President Steve Nickerson said it best when asked, "What will be the tipping point of this format war?" His reply: "[It] winds up being something that couldn’t be projected; because if you can project it, you can affect it." We couldn’t agree with that more. 2007 should be an interesting year of armchair analysis, sensational PR announcements and bold predictions. Stay tuned.


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