It seems that next-generation high-definition optical discs continue to dominate the news of late. There are delays and missteps that abound. As I reported earlier this week, Samsung has delayed their Blu-ray Disc player till June 25, 2006. So, while BD movie titles will be available in late May, there won't be any players to play them on till the end of June. I guess you could say that by having the BD titles out ahead of the hardware could be a good thing so that there's something in place for folks to watch once the BD players arrive over the Summer. The opposite can be said for HD DVD. Toshiba had to delay the arrival of its player slightly to accommodate Warner Bros. Home Video being late with HD DVD movie titles. Happily, both HD DVD hardware and software are finally reaching retail outlets. Of course, the big question is that will a close to three month lead in the marketplace really make a difference for HD DVD? Good question, and I don't think that no one has the answer just yet. Will $500 players with 3 movie titles really sell? It might. Just because you're on the beach first does not mean that you've won the war.
I was recently doing a survey of Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD players for a print publication, and uncovered some interesting information. Between now and September, there will be a total of eight next-generation high-definition optical disc players coming to market. There will be three HD DVD players, and five Blu-ray Disc players. The HD DVD players from Toshiba are available now, and RCA's will come in early Summer (June or July). Blu-ray Disc, on the other hand, will actually reach retail in July at more than twice the price of HD DVD. Prices of BD players will range between $1,000 and $1,800 approximately. Will they be too pricey?
And, not all BD players are created equal. What do I mean by this? Well, some players will playback CDs, and some will not. Some players will playback some advanced audio codecs like Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (2-channel), and DTS-HD (2-channel), and some will not. On top of that, different players will have different versions of HDMI. Players that will arrive to the marketplace early will include HDMI v. 1.1. I just found out yesterday that Panasonic's BD player, which is coming sometime in September, will include HDMI v. 1.2a. Supposedly, HDMI v. 1.2 passes both DVD-Audio and SACD, but no next-gen player is supporting these audio codecs. So, why bother? On top of that, none of the new players can playback new multi-channel audio codecs as they can't be carried till HDMI v. 1.3, which won't be available till late in the year. This may be one of the reasons that the leading audio brands are waiting to release next-gen players. A second reason may be that they are waiting to see who takes the market lead. Who knows?
Is HD DVD any better? How can a new category be created with only three models? I don't know. Initial players will only playback 1080i - not 1080p. At best, the new players include HDMI v.1.1, and will playback 2-channel versions of the new audio codec. HD DVD will playback CDs from the start. Of course, if Toshiba and RCA do well, other manufacturers will jump from the BD bandwagon onto HD DVD. It did happen before with VHS winning out over Beta years ago. LG, who was originally in the BD camp, has announced a combi player that will playback both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Unfortunately, there are still no details regarding this model. If it comes over the Summer, it may be "the best of both worlds." I guess that we will just have to wait and see. Stay tuned to Digital TV DesignLine for news as it happens in the worlds of Digital TV, next-generation HD optical discs and the like.