If you’ve been on the fence about high-definition DVD because you’re afraid of a format war, LG’s BH100 ($1,199) is worth a look. The dual-format player, called Super Multi Blue, spins both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs along with standard DVDs. Note the caveats, though. Super Multi Blue doesn’t play CDs and it can’t handle the interactive features of HD DVD. It does support the BD-Java interactive function of Blu-ray discs, which delivers features such as picture-in-picture commentary.
For those willing to commit to a format, more affordable options are on the way. For example, Toshiba’s second-generation HD-A20 sells for $599 but still packs high-end features, including 1080p output. The player also supports the 5.1-channel version of Dolby’s TrueHD audio format. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Onkyo and Meridian announced plans to introduce HD DVD players for the home, while Alpine committed to a player for the road. According to the HD DVD Promotions Group, some 300 HD DVD titles will be released this year.
Over in the Blu-ray Disc camp, Sony Pictures alone has committed to nearly 100 new titles by the end of the year with Lionsgate, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount and Warner Home Video on tap for more.
On the player front, Samsung introduced its second-generation Blu-ray model ($799) at CES. New to the upgrade is the HQV (Hollywood Quality Video) processor, which upscales standard DVD images to the highest resolution possible over HDMI 1.3.
Pioneer delayed delivery of its Blu-ray player until the end of last year and shaved $300 off the announced price to bring it to $1,499. Pioneer attributes the steep price (compared with a Sony PS3 for $599 or a $1,299 Panasonic DMP-BD10) to high-end features, including the player’s 24-frame-per-second (fps) output. According to Chris Walker, senior manager of product planning and marketing at Pioneer, the 24-fps (or Hz) output matches the frame rate in which the film was shot. “The 24-Hz frame rate eliminates the jitter you see when you pan from left to right, and it makes the movie look smoother and more natural,” he says. To get the benefit of 24-fps output, your TV has to accept a 24-fps input. Sony, LG and Pioneer are among the companies that have announced 24-fps-capable TVs.
Warner Home Video has added an interesting twist to the format battle. The studio announced at CES the Total Hi Def disc (THD), a dual-format hi-res DVD with a Blu-ray version on one side and HD DVD on the other. According to Warner Home Video president Kevin Tsujiharo, THD is a “solution that will allow retailers to invest in more inventory to offer a broader selection of titles and free up shelf space, as title formats are combined on one disc.”
Warner execs said research indicated consumers would be willing to pay “a little more” for a dual-format disc because of the safety factor. Prices for the double-duty disc will be higher than for single-format titles, although Warner wouldn’t disclose pricing or availability of the discs, which are due to arrive in stores toward the end of the year. Warner, New Line and HBO titles are expected to switch over to Total Hi Def later this year.
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