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LG Electronics, one of the world’s largest producers of consumer electronics, said that it would finally demonstrate dual-format player capable of playback of both Blu-ray and HD DVD format discs at the forthcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The announcement follows multiply changes in plans that preceded it.

Dual-Format Players Are Coming

LG Electronics said that the company would showcase the world’s first player that can playback Blu-ray discs and HD DVDs. The new device will be available for sale as early as in the first quarter of the year, but the pricing and other details are expected to be unveiled during the trade show.

“The unit will be released in the United States in early 2007. Details will be provided at the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held January 8–11 in Las Vegas. LG expects this technological breakthrough to end the confusion and inconvenience of competing high-definition disc formats for both content producers and consumers,” a statement by the electronics giant reads.

In the past LG Electronics changed its attitude towards next-generation DVD players at least two times. In March, 2006, LG pulled back with the release of a Blu-ray disc only player and wrote a letter to its clients saying that it would enter the market with a player that can tap two different markets – Blu-ray, which had negligible market presence in 2006, but has serious potential in the future, and HD DVD, which had stronger market share in 2006 and also potential to grow. In July, however, the company said that it wanted to remain a consistent member of the Blu-ray camp and would introduce a Blu-ray-only player, whereas plans for the dual-format one would be scrapped. That player – LG BD199 (according to some information) or LG BD100 (according to other data) – has never seen the light of the day.

Back in January last year, the Consumer Electronics Association predicted that more than 600 000 high definition DVD players, worth $484 million, would be sold this year. However, delays of shipments and manufacturing issues have twice caused the organization to lower its forecast, and it expected back in November U.S. sales to reach only 200 000 players, worth $181 million, by the end of 2006. Analysts believe that high definition DVD players that use blue lasers fell short off expectations because consumers were uncertain regarding which format will eventually win and decided to keep away from both.

HD DVD May Benefit from Dual-Format Players

The release of hybrid player not only is positive for the market in general, but will be particularly good for the format that has already gained traction in the market of consumer electronics – HD DVD – due to more democratic pricing and higher amount of content, but has fewer consumer electronics companies that support it.

LG typically makes lower-priced consumer electronics, bearing in mind the fact that the lowest-priced Blu-ray disk players have recommended retail price of $999, 30% to 50% less than those from companies like Panasonic or Pioneer, it is likely that a hybrid player would cost the same amount of money (e.g. $1500) compared to others’ BD-only device. Once the dual-format players from manufacturers like LG or Samsung emerge at a price-points comparable with that of Blu-ray disc players, the makers of BD-only devices will have to make the prices lower so that to maintain sales. The introduction of Blu-ray/HD DVD players along with presumable price-drop on BD players would catalyze the HD DVD-only devices to decrease the pricing too, something which will increase their popularity among mainstream customers.

Still, at the end, the consumers will win, as with the launch of the player that is compatible with both next-generation formats there will be no need to guess which format may become more popular in several years when purchasing a new player.

The War Is Ongoing

The HD DVD is pushed aggressively by Toshiba, Intel, Microsoft and Nec as well as being standardized at the DVD Forum, which represents over 230 consumer electronics, information technology, and content companies worldwide. Blu-ray is backed by Sony Corp. At present, the Blu-ray is supported by such leading manufacturers as Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Sharp, Sony and others, meanwhile, Toshiba’s HD DVD relies only on the company itself and RCA/Thompson.

Among Hollywood studios HD DVD is supported by New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Blu-ray disc is supported by Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox , Universal Pictures, Walt Disney and Warner Bros.

Traditional single-layer DVDs allow consumers to watch movies in 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL) resolution with Dolby Digital audio. The blue-laser discs, such as Blu-ray and HD DVD, provide consumers 1920x1080 progressive (1080p) resolution as well as DTS or Dolby Digital Plus audio along with some additional interactive features.

HD DVD discs can store up to 15GB on a single layer and up to 30GB on two layers. Its competitor, Blu-ray, can store up to 27GB per single layer and up to 50GB on two layers, but Blu-ray discs are more expensive to produce. Furthermore, for consumers there is no difference in quality between the standards.

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