With the first batch of Blu-ray movies finally hitting store shelves and Samsung’s BD-P1000 ready to launch on June 25, the war between the next-generation optical formats is about to be joined. Given the slow launch of both formats, the early battles will likely prove to be little more than inconclusive skirmishes as consumers begin to educate themselves about the new discs and recover from sticker shock.
Samsung, which is a high-profile backer of Blu-ray, is considering whether to hedge its bets by introducing a hybrid player. Still in development, the device would be able to play both HD DVD and Blu-ray content in a single drive.
The idea of hybrid devices is not a new one. Just before CES began in January, chip maker Broadcom took the wraps off an A/V decoder chip that was compliant with both next-gen optical disc formats. The BCM7411D handles realtime HD decoding of VD-1, H.264, and MPEG-2, the video formats supported by Blu-ray and HD DVD.
Broadcom’s chip is a significant step, but more work is needed to create a hybrid drive due to the differences between the two formats. Both use a blue-violet laser of the same wavelength, but differences in disc size—minute though they may be—and data paths mean that it will require some solid engineering to get a single drive to handle both formats. Without such a drive, consumers who want to hedge their bets would have to buy an expensive player with a drive dedicated to each disc type.
If Samsung follows through on the development and releases a hybrid drive, it could give them an edge in the consumer electronics space. However, it is not a done deal. Samsung executive Kim Du-Hyon says that the company will only release a hybrid player if HD DVD is as successful as Blu-ray. The hybrid player would be available some time around year end, should it be released.
Although HD DVD and Blu-ray will both have a stronger presence in the market later by the time the holiday shopping season rolls around, it is doubtful that Samsung will be able to get the kind of clarity it wants around how the market is shaking out. Even if the company goes ahead with a hybrid player, the price tag—likely to be higher than the US$1,000 for a Blu-ray player—will mean slow sales as consumers sit on the sidelines and wait for price to drop and the format war to shake out a bit more.