Blu-ray, HD DVD Dual-Format Vidabox Lux Media Center has the exclusive demo of the first dual-format player.
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December 08, 2006 by Jason Unger

This whole Blu-ray/HD DVD format war is a mess. Even representatives from the two camps think so.

With retailers seeing little interest from their customers, early adopters confused by the technology and studios cutting expectations, it’s no surprise that everyone is frustrated.

(Did I even mention the delays?)

While there have been talks about dual-format players from LG, Pioneer and Ricoh, none have materialized—until the Lux and Max Media Centers from Vidabox hit the scenes.

Vidabox’s Steve Cheung came into the offices of EH Publishing in Framingham, Mass. to demo the Lux version of their dual-format player.

The Lux, which can store a total of 3.75 TB of data and content, is powered by an AMD chipset and runs Windows Media Center Edition. It features two separate disc drives—one for each format—that are powered by CyberLink’s PowerDVD 6.7, which is compatible with both Blu-ray and HD DVD. (Sorry DIYers—it’s only available through OEM channels.)

Vidabox customized the Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) interface to include a “Play HD Movie” option, which launches the CyberLink software using the standard MCE remote.

The system can output 1080p video over DVI, but the Lux does not have HDMI standard. An HDCP-complaint HDMI output can be added, Cheung says, but they don’t recommend it.

However, the company is open to customizing units to the customer’s needs. “You tell us what you’d like, we’ll custom make something for you,” says Cheung.

Waiting for the movie to launch took a while—Cheung chalks this up to the content protection schemes on both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

The video looked great on the Samsung LCD we were using—no obvious artifacts, great colors and deep blacks.

Cheung says that developing a dual-format player was difficult, but it’s obviously “the biggest selling point of the system.”

Vidabox isn’t jumping on the Windows Vista bandwagon, says Cheung, because it doesn’t offer much more than XP Media Center Edition. “There are no significant advantages over [MCE] 2005,” he says. “We know it works, we know it’s stable.”

He acknowledges the added benefit of CableCard integration with Vista, but says that the one-way functionality leaves something to be desired. “We’re in talks with Microsoft to get CableCard,” he says. “We want to get it ... but if nobody wants [one-way transmissions], then why do it at all?”

The Lux, which has room for up to four TV tuners, can stream content to multizones—including the company’s Slim and Roommate servers—but not HD DVD or Blu-ray movies because of the copy protection.

So what does he think of the ongoing format war?

“HD DVD is doing a better job,” he says, noting that the video outputs of the two formats are “close enough to the same.” Cheung adds that HD DVD’s functionality, which allows users to change scenes, select special features and more while the movie is running, is “a lot easier” than Blu-ray jumping to the menu screen. “In terms of functionality, HD DVD is the clear winner right now.”

Though they have improved, Cheung says that the first Blu-ray movies were not up to par. “Some movies just looked miserable,” he says.

But what will happen if or when one (or both) of the formats loses the war? The Vidabox Lux will still be a legacy device, says Cheung, and there will always be the option to swap out drives.

The Vidabox Lux is available in limited distribution through the company and dealer channels.

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