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January 25, 2007

LG BH100 leads the parade of dual format high definition DVD players

I’ve mentioned some high definition DVD players here (e.g. [1],[2]), but whatever the virtues, the biggest impediment remains the format battle between the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps. Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show, some vendors tried to bridge the gap: Warner Brothers with a new format disk that had both Blu-ray and HD DVD versions of a movie on it and LG Electronics with a dual format “Super Multi Blue” Player that can handle both Blu-ray and HD DVD disks.

There’s nothing technically wrong with the Warner Brothers solution, but it requires the studios to agree to publishing the special disks which seems unlikely except for Warner Brothers themselves. More promising is is LG’s dual format player solution:

Following the commercial launch of the universal player that can tap both Blu-ray and HD DVD markets there are many more similar devices incoming according to technology research firm ABI research, which believes that such hybrid players will essentially end the war of formats. However, due to high pricing of blue-laser players their mass adoption is still far ahead.

ABI Research believes that by creating a player that accommodates both Blu-ray and  HD-DVD discs, the Korean manufacturer LG Electronics may have created a precedent that the rest of the industry will have to follow.

“We believe that universal players will come to dominate the high-definition DVD player market,” said Steve Wilson, the firm’s principal analyst of consumer electronics.

The research firm also speculates that Samsung is expected to release its own universal player “soon”, and others, including large consumer electronics vendors, may follow suit “before long”. ABI Research forecasts sales of 2.4 million players in 2007, rising to 55 million in 2011.

Many observers expect that the demands of supporting both formats would significantly increase the price of universal players. While there is some additional cost in the optical pickup and the LG player’s initial price is quite steep at $1200, Mr. Wilson expects these prices to drop dramatically as new manufacturers come to market with universal players.

“That $1200 price would seem to be more about matching Blu-ray player prices than about reflecting the cost of producing a universal player. There’s no reason universal players should cost significantly more than HD or Blu-ray players,” the analyst explained.

The LG players are available now in the USA:

The major consumer electronics maker LG Electronics has reportedly started to sell its “Super Multi Blue” BH100 player that is capable of Blu-ray disc and HD DVD playback ahead of the officially proclaimed commercial launch date in the U.S.

Apparently, online store is currently taking orders on LG BH100 universal disc player, whereas at least some Circuit City stores have them on shelves. Officially, the LG “Super Multi Blue” player, the world’s first and yet the only device that can playback both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats, should be on sale starting the 1st of February, 2007.

Here’s the press release for the BH100, but Gizmodo’s review points out some problems:

We got the LG BH100 in the mail yesterday. It does what claims to do — be the very first high definition disc player that is compatible with both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. But don’t waive the white flag in the format war quite yet. Our first grope reveals a few flaws that keep me from recommending this player as the ultimate peace keeper in the HD format war.

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that the rumors that the HD-DVD compatibility is half-assed are absolutely true. One of HD-DVD’s strongest points is its interactive menus and video features, like the ones we wrote about in our Fast and the Furious HD-DVD review. This player didn’t support the menus on this movie, and some of the special features, like being able to repaint a race car in the movie, were only found when I manually skipped to the chapter. Even then, the only thing you can depend on is that the movie will play. Which may be enough for many, but not enough for those who want the most from both formats.

Secondly, I could not get the player to engage its 1080p mode via HDMI with the Sony XBR3 I’m testing. 1080i was all she would do.

But beyond that, she did play both discs. And the boot times were in the 30-40 second range for both HD formats. That’s a step in the right direction compared to many of the 1st gen disc players that took about a minute.

The HD DVD glitches are why the BH100 does not have the official HD DVD logo.

Bottom Line: The LG player just doesn’t seem ready for prime time yet, but once they work the bugs out the dual format player looks like it will take over the high definition DVD player market. Yeah, it’s more expensive than Toshiba’s moderately priced HD DVD-only players, but it plays everything.

Posted at 10:36 am. Filed under Blu-ray, Companies, HD DVD, LG, Samsung, Storage, Toshiba

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