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Nec Electronics Corp. has begun sample shipments of its controller chipset that can enable hybrid high definition video disc players that can playback or record Blu-ray/HD DVD discs eventually. The move is notable, as NEC is one of the main driving forces behind HD DVD format.

The new chipset from Nec consists of μPC3360 and µPC3360 large scale integration (LSI) chips that can control the position of optical head, read, record and process data from the optical disc and perform error correction, according to Nec’s statement in Japanese. The chipset will be available in fine pitch ball grid array (FPBGA) as well as low-profile quad flat package (LQFP) types of form-factors.

Earlier this year Atmel announced laser diode drive that could control lasers for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs (BDs) and HD DVDs. In addition, Ricoh has demonstrated a technology that can adjust laser beam for reading different formats automatically. Since the official statement does not include many details and is in Japanese, it was unclear at press time whether Nec’s chipset compliments inventions by Atmel or Ricoh, or can rival them in any way.

Currently Nec supplies samples for ?10 000 ($84) a unit and expects to begin mass production in late Q4 2006. The company hopes to ramp up production of the chipset to 300 thousand units per month, even though, the company does not declare pricing of such chipsets when they hit volume production.

Analysts believe that servo chipset, optical pick-up, H.264 decoder and royalties making up the majority of a Blu-laser player cost and estimate that the bill of materials for blue-laser disc players is over $400.

Blu-ray and HD DVD formats compete for replacing the DVD standard and are pushed by two different industry groups onto the market. But while companies like Sony and Toshiba are sure that their format will eventually win, there are manufacturers who are looking forward to release dual-format players that can playback both BD and HD DVD. Even though it is possible to create such dual-format devices even now, specifically designed hardware would enable makers to produce more affordable hybrid BD/HD DVD players.

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