LG Unveils Combo High-def Disc Players

LAS VEGAS -- LG Electronics took a big step today towards the end of the next-generation DVD format battle with the unveiling of a player, as well as a PC drive, that support both the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats.

The two products, which carry the "Super Multi Blue" brand, will be available in the U.S. in the current quarter and could help kick-start the high-definition movie disc market. The first HD DVD player went on sale in Japan in March and the first Blu-ray Disc player followed in the U.S. in the middle of last year but to-date sales of both formats have been disappointing.

Battling Formats

Total HD DVD shipments during 2006 totaled 370,000 units, said Paul Castellana, senior director of HD DVD business development at Toshiba's storage device division, on the sidelines of the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which opens here tomorrow. Toshiba is the major backer of HD DVD.

Comparable figures for Blu-ray Disc, which is currently the more expensive of the two formats, were not available, however the format got a boost in November when Sony launched its PlayStation 3 game console, which carries a Blu-ray Disc player.

LG said in a statement that it developed the player to end confusion in the market caused by the battling formats.

Combo Player and Drive Details

The BH100 player will be available in the first quarter in the U.S. and will cost around $1,199. That makes it more expensive that Toshiba's two HD DVD players, which cost $500 and $1,000 and some Blu-ray Disc players, but it also works out cheaper than Pioneer's high-end $1,500 BDP-HD1 Blu-ray Disc player.

LG will also launch a dual-format drive, the GGW-H10N, for personal computers during the same time frame. The drive will cost under $1,199 and can read and write Blu-ray Disc and read HD DVD-ROM.

The compatibility in the drive is thanks to a newly developed optical pickup from LG, the company said. The optical pickup contains a laser and lens and is the device responsible for getting data on and off the disc. The two battling formats are technically similar: they both use a blue laser. But while the optics in Blu-ray Disc are unique, those used for HD DVD are similar to those used on current DVD discs.

Blu-ray Disc is backed by Sony and Panasonic--along with a long list of electronics makers--and achieves a capacity of 25G bytes on a single-sided disc. HD DVD's main backer is Toshiba and the format also has broad support in Hollywood. A single-sided HD DVD disc can store 15G bytes of data. In comparison, a DVD stores 4.7G bytes.

Background

The launch of the dual-format products isn't a total surprise. LG said last year it was considering such a device and last week said it would show a dual-format player at CES. However the announcement likely came late enough to throw the promotion plans of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc hardware makers into the air. The question at CES likely will be: if LG has a dual-format player, why should I bother considering a single-format player from any other company?

Attendees will get a chance to ask that question tomorrow when CES officially opens its doors. The same question is likely to be asked Sunday night at a scheduled HD DVD news conference and Monday evening at a similar Blu-ray Disc event.

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, visit PC World's CES 2007 Live Coverage Infocenter.

Melissa Perenson of PC World contributed to this report.

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