SAN FRANCISCO Machines capable of playing both Blu-ray and HD-DVD disks will emerge next year to short-circuit the format war in next-generation DVD.
Leading chip vendors such as Broadcom, STMicroelectronics and NEC Electronics told EE Times they are developing ICs that allow high-definition optical drives and players to comply with the two competing specifications. These suppliers appear to have specific knowledge that their potential customerswhose names they declined to disclosewill roll out universal players as early as 2007.
Although confused consumers might welcome a box that resolved the incompatibility between HD-DVD (HD) and Blu-ray Disc (BD), its advent could also put a crimp in immediate sales. "Many consumers we've interviewed said they would hold off buying a
next-generation DVD player until some universal players hit the universal player hits the market," said Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.).
Broadcom Corp. has already shipped the industry's first dual HD/BD decoder chip, designed into the first-generation Toshiba HD-DVD player and into Samsung's Blu-ray Disc player. Broadcom will also make its next-generation platform--a much more highly integrated system-on-chip that is scheduled for announcement sooncomply with both formats, while adding support for BD's latest profile.
Broadcom hopes not only to cover its bets in an uncertain format battle, but also to cater to the emerging market for universal players. Asked whether such boxes will reach the consumer market before the end of 2007, Don Shulsinger, vice president of business development for Broadcom's broadband communications group, said, "We predict that the most successful product will be universal players."
Similarly, Christos Lagomichos, general manager of the Home Entertainment Group at STMicroelectronics, predicted that "a significant volume of high-definition-capable optical-disk players in 2008 will be universal players."
"Except for politically aligned CE companies, many system vendors cannot afford to lose out on such an opportunity," Henry Nurser, DVD business unit manager at ST, said of universal players.
Chris Crotty, an analyst at market research firm iSuppli Corp., also expects consumer electronics vendors to roll out dual-format players by next year.
ST is integrating the latest Blu-ray software changes into its STi7200 chip, originally developed for the set-top market, along with support for the middleware required by HD-DVD and Blu-ray. The chip will be in volume in 2007, Nurser said.
While both Broadcom and STfor nowoffer only the back-end decoder IC for next-generation DVD players, NEC Electronics Corp. last month began sampling a front-end processor chip set that can handle read/write operations for both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players.
"It's just a matter of time" before disk drives compatible with both formats hit the market, said Shigeo Niitsu, vice president responsible for system-on chip LSIs for PC peripherals and audio/video digital systems at NEC Electronics. Although no drive vendors have released such combo drives yet, he said, "PC companies like HP are looking for drives that are compatible with both formats. Technically speaking, LSIs for such drives are ready."
According to analyst Doherty, both Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc. last year said they would develop and market universal players. LG at that time even said that it would have one available by this autumn. But both companies later retracted their announcements, and Doherty suspects they did so after being pressured by the Blu-ray camp.
As leader of the Blu-ray camp, Sony has bet big on that format. Its Playstation 3, due out this month, will be a Blu-ray system. And on the content side, Sony's Columbia Pictures is releasing titles on Blu-ray. Calling the format debate "emotionally charged," Doherty said he believes the Blu-ray group is urging CE vendors not to develop the universal player, because "it would give HD-DVD added credibility."