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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Blu-ray Launch Set for January


Pioneer Electronics said Tuesday it will unveil the Blu-ray DVD format in January—far ahead of expectations—dealing a blow to the rival HD-DVD format whose backers had once hoped for a head-start in the $40-billion market for next-generation DVD systems.

Pioneer will display a Blu-ray drive for personal computers at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which starts January 5. The drive will start shipping in Japan by the end of January 2006, said the company. The North American launch will come in the first quarter of 2006.

Pioneer is one of the founders of the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), an organization of consumer electronics, entertainment, and computer companies engaged in the research and development of Blu-ray hardware and software. Sony is the leading supporter of the Blu-ray format.

HD-DVD has the backing of only three major consumer electronics companies—Toshiba, Sanyo, and NEC. However, two big tech giants, Intel and Microsoft, are siding with the HD-DVD format because of the inclusion of two important features: iHD and Mandatory Managed Copy (see Microsoft, Intel Vote HD-DVD).

The HD-DVD camp’s initial plan was to launch at the end of 2005, but the unveiling was later pushed back to spring 2006 (see HD-DVD Delayed Until 2006). Thus far, the HD-DVD camp has not yet shown any indication of launching products during CES, the largest consumer electronics trade show in North America.

Both standards are based on blue laser technology, which will replace the red laser used in the current generation of DVDs. Both new standards offer high-definition pictures, superior sound quality, more storage, and interactive features that current-generation DVDs do not offer.

The Pioneer drive will be able to write and read single-layer BD-R (Blu-ray Disc Recordable) and BD-RE (Blu-ray Disc Rewritable) discs without a cartridge, and read single-layer and double-layer ROM (Read-Only Memory) discs without a cartridge.

Pending Issues

The launch of Panasonic’s drive depends on two licensing issues.

Pioneer has to wait for the start date of the Blu-ray Disc format logo and copyright protection technology license before it can launch the drives. The Advanced Access Content System (AACS), which provides copy protection on next-generation DVDs to prevent piracy, has also delayed the launch of HD-DVD.

Blu-ray has a clear edge over the rival format in terms of the clout of its hardware and software supporters. Some of the world’s largest and most influential companies—including Samsung, Hitachi, Philips, Apple, and Dell, and movie studios such as Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Walt Disney—are giving their exclusive support to Blu-ray.

Computer giant Hewlett-Packard, which was an exclusive supporter of Blu-ray, recently said it would support both Blu-ray and HD-DVD (see HP Adds HD-DVD Format).

In a recent report, Forrester Research predicted Blu-ray will eventually emerge as the victorious format. The report noted that unless the HD-DVD group abandons the field, it will be another two years before consumers gain enough confidence in Blu-ray and think about buying a new-format DVD player.

“In the meantime, they will expand their video-on-demand, downloadable video, and Internet video habits,” said the report.

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