The high-def wars

The cold war that’s been raging for a year between Blu-ray and HD-DVD is about to become very, very hot. Both disc formats are going to launch in the

The cold war that’s been raging for a year between Blu-ray and HD-DVD is about to become very, very hot. Both disc formats are going to launch in the next few months – in America at least – and both have big-name backers.

So here’s the lowdown of the pre-war manoeuvrings at CES.

In the Blu-ray corner, Sony is saying it will release its Blu-ray Disc (BD) player in America in early summer, along with 20 movies including classics like For A Few Dollars More and Bridge on the River Kwai as well as modern fare such as Kung Fu Hustle. Sony also says it will release a laptop with Blu-Ray drive around the same time. Pricing for all products was not announced.

But Samsung trumped Sony by announcing that it will be first to ship a Blu-ray player, launching the BD-P1000 (pictured) in America in April. The player will support both 720p and 1080i content, and is backward compatible with pretty much every 8in silver disc, including DVD-RAM, -RW and +RW. It also features a huge range of memory card slots. Problem is, it’ll cost somewhere near $1000 – significantly more than Toshiba’s entry-level HD-DVD player.

Philips has also pledged to release a Blu-Ray player this year – the BDP 9000 will be available “in the second half of 2006”, as will PC Writer that records DVDs and CDs as well as BDs.

Toshiba has already delayed the launch of HD-DVD in America – the first players were meant to be available by the end of 2005. However, it seems likely that it will still win the race to be first to market, albeit only by a month. Toshiba will release two players by March 2006 – the $800 high-end HD-XA1, with motorised door and USB port, and the budget $500 HD-A1.

Tosh also showed off a QOSMIO multimedia laptop – the first with HD-DVD drive and Dolby Home Theatre Suite sound – but gave no details availability.

Sanyo, meanwhile, was displaying a prototype HD-DVD player, but didn’t rule out supporting Blu-Ray at a later date.

On the software front, Studio Canal announced it would ship 20 HD-DVD titles in Europe by the end of 2006 – which suggests that HD-DVD hardware will have made it across the Atlantic before Christmas. There’s no news about Blu-ray in Europe. We can only hope.

Warner was hedging its bets by announcing the same raft of titles – including Batman Begins, Troy and Terminator 3 – for both formats.

As we reported elsewhere, Xbox 360 will also get its own – external – HD-DVD drive sometime this year. But PlayStation 3 will offer a built-in Blu-ray drive, and Sony’s console could prove to be the weapon of mass destruction in this format war.

Alternatively, there may be no winner at all – the increasing availability of movie downloads via the internet, combined with capacious hard-drive video recorders and Media Centers, could mean we don’t need another optical disc format at all.

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