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Friday, January 06, 2006

Optical disk wars heat up at CES

Optical disk wars heat up at CES

"Leading consumer electronics manufacturers in the competing HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc camps scrambled to announce market plans for their high-definition optical disk players at the Consumer Electronics Show here Wednesday (Jan. 4).

The HD disk players, carrying prices ranging from $499 to $1,800, are slated to become available as early as March, though some will not emerge until the second half of the year.

The strategy of the two camps appears to be taking two different directions. While the HD DVD group seems more intent on hitting the market as soon as possible at a competitive price, Blu-ray promoters remain vague about their launching schedules and pricing.

Though less evident in these product announcements, the lack of Advanced Access Content System (AACS) licensing could still delay the final product launch for either HD DVD or Blu-ray backers, since both systems use AACS.
HD DVD backer Toshiba is leading the pack with plans to introduce, possibly by March, two HD DVD player models — priced at $499 and $799. Both models support H.264 and VC-1, as well as MPEG-2, using a new video decoder chip developed by Broadcom. The two models also connect to HDTV sets via a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), and offer copy-protected HD content in native format of the HD DVD disk content of either 720p or 1080i.

Features included in the two Toshiba models are identical, according to Yoshihiro Matsumoto, president of Toshiba America Consumer Products LLC. While Toshiba expects to ship this spring 10,000 HD DVD players per month in the U.S., Toshiba’s Matsumoto acknowledged that the company’s March launch of HD DVD players "still depends on the availability of AACS licensing and popular movie titles."

Meanwhile, Pioneer will ship in May a consumer Blu-ray player capable of 1080p resolution with HDMI interfaces, Dolby and DTS sound — for a whopping $1,800.

The price tag for Pioneer’s Blu-ray player shocked many industry observers. "They have completely crossed over into La-La Land," said Rob Enderle, analyst with the Enderle Group (San Jose, Calif.).

Pioneer thinks otherwise. "It’s our belief this is an early-adopter market more interested in quality than low cost," said Andy Parsons, a senior vice president for product development at Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. (Long Beach, Calif.). Asked for reaction to the promise of $500 HD DVD drives by March, Parsons called this pricing tactic "a very drastic measure."" [more]

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