January 10, 2006 4:00 AM PST

A DVD combo? Don't hold your breath

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

For consumers, a device that could play both HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs would take a lot of risk out of adopting the new video players--but one may not arrive for a while.

Legal agreements, intellectual property issues and technological pride will likely keep the two camps backing incompatible next-generation technologies from coming together in the near future, executives and analysts said.

"Until everyone agrees to check their egos at the door and help the consumer, there is nothing we can do about a universal product," said Peter Weedfald, a senior vice president of marketing at Samsung North America.

HD DVD and Blu-ray are competing video and storage formats for succeeding DVDs. While some movie studios said in mid-2005 that they were open to merging the two formats, by late summer, such talk had fizzled out.

Meanwhile, the technological world is bitterly divided. Sony, Samsung, Philips and Dell are among the Blu-ray backers. Intel, Microsoft and Toshiba are on the HD DVD side. Hewlett-Packard has said it will support both contenders.

Pride and ill-will seem to play a significant part in the debate. As in the old Betamax-VHS debate, both sides believe they have each found the formula that more perfectly suits consumers' desires.

Steve Kovsky, an analyst at Current Analysis, recalled a meeting in Tokyo last year at a major Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer. A reporter asked about a "universal" player. The executive leading the tour blew up and called the notion "stupid."

"Japanese executives in general are very political, so this was very surprising," Kovsky said. "Technically, it is possible...but at this point, it doesn't look like it will happen, which is a shame, because it will hinder adoption."

But the conflict goes far deeper. The rules that govern the organizations touting the different technologies currently bar manufacturers from combining the two standards into a single drive, Weedfald said.

"The conundrum is that you've got two different camps. You've got licensing issues, you've got trademarks, you've got copyrights," Weedfald said. "You can't just be on the Blu-ray side and say, 'We will put HD DVD in there,' and the reverse is true."

Samsung may make a separate line of HD DVD players to complement the Blu-ray players it plans to release later this year, Weedfald said. This would allow Samsung to support both formats, although not in a single product. The company, however, does not have current plans to do so, he said.

Return on invention
Royalties also play a significant role, said Rudy Provoost, CEO of Philips Electronics. The companies behind each standard hold patents and expect to be compensated for their inventions. Philips, Sony and the others behind the CD standard eventually garnered hundreds of millions of dollars from that invention.

"There are so many players. There is a lot of intellectual that went into this, and companies like Philips and Toshiba and Sony will all look for a return on investment," Provoost said. "That is what makes it a challenging debate. It's like the CD days. Everybody looks for a fair reward."

Philips currently does not have HD DVD on its product road map. In the second half of 2006, the Dutch electronics giant plans to release a Blu-ray player and then follow up in the first half of 2007 with a player that can record CDs, standard DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

The negative repercussions of the war between Blu-ray and HD DVD could end up being even more expensive than the conflict between Sony's Betamax and VHS in the mid-1970s. Back then, consumers who bought Betamax players found themselves saddled with an expensive player and a dwindling supply of movies released in the Betamax format.

In the current conflict, if Blu-ray wins out, for example, consumers could find themselves being forced to upgrade computers with an integrated HD DVD drive earlier than anticipated, or to buy an external Blu-ray device. Similarly, if people buy HD DVD players, forget buying a Dell PC, which will come with Blu-ray.

"From a consumer perspective, the best thing would be one format," Provoost said. "I don't know if that will be a reality. Eventually, you will have to follow the logos." He added, however, that polarization between the two groups could narrow.

To help consumers, most studios will pop out movies in both formats. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the laundry list of movies coming out this year on these formats is almost identical.

"It's too early too tell" which will win, Matt Lasorsa, executive vice president of marketing at New Line Home Video, said in a brief conversation after a presentation at CES. "The ideal solution would be a universal player."

 

Correction: This story incorrectly stated analyst Steve Kovsky's affiliation. He works at Current Analysis.

See more CNET content tagged:
HD-DVD, Philips Electronics N.V., Sony Betamax, Blu-ray, electronics company

64 comments

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Death To Both HD Formats!
I will not go through this again!
I will not get HD-DVD or Blueray DVD..in Fact I wa s shopping around for my First HD TV..I am going to hold off a vew more years before I even get that, and its all due to the fact that big companies Still can't work together!

They don't seem to care a Rats _ss About You or Me!

SO I will not spend my $$$ any any of em

I suggest That every one HOLD off and anything HD...

Let em crash and Burn ..and after they lose billions The might Just get the point.."that it's use" that the need to keep happy!

SO Forget HD...Hold off a few more years if enough people hold off they will be forced to work together or go bankrupt!

Let both HD formats DIE! DO NOT Get Eaither OR!

migraine@knology.net
Posted by Migraine (95 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree.
I'm tired of re-upgrading. I'll stick with regular DVD until I can just buy the content online.

If I end up with one of the new formats, it will be because it ships in a device I've bought for some other purpose, like playing games. I won't actively purchase a standalone upgrade until DVDs aren't available at all anymore.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong attack
You are attacking HD not just HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. You might want to learn what you are ranting about. HD is not being argued, the next generation of storage is being debated. Why would you fight back against HD? I love my HDTV and there is no format war with that.
Posted by schubb (202 comments )
Link Flag
If the big boys can't makeup their minds....
.... there's no need for me to make any decision. I'll wait for the
smoke to settle and the prices to get real.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's the best thing to do
That is the best thing to do right now. Wait until the smoke clears and the rest of the world says which standard is better. Right now, I am saying that HD-DVD is better, mainly because it is an evolution of older DVD's, and it will still support CD's and DVD's reading and, possibly, writing.
Posted by Leria (585 comments )
Link Flag
It's a win-win game for me...
I am going to get a Sony Playstation 3 when it comes out in a few months, which will be able to play blu-ray DVDs... So if blu-ray wins, then I'm fine... If HD-DVD wins, then I'll buy an HD-DVD player when prices drop... Either way, I'm fine, the only problem will be getting a PS3 when it comes out this spring, time to get my camping gear ready :-)
Posted by newsguru (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
And....
the xbox 360 is going to have an external HD-DVD player later this year and one would easily assume an internal one in the next year or two
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Link Flag
Again, these formats are doomed to fail - Picture Quality and DRM
Why is CNET making such a big issue out of HD-DVD and BlueRay? Neither format will win over even a small minority of the people.

Sure the quality of the movie will be somewhat better, but not nearly enough to justify the risk, and cost to upgrade the average system. Plus, these new formats are loaded with DRM.

Meanwhile, dual layer DVD is beginning to make inroads, that will double the capacity of data DVD.

My prediction: Neither format will win in the living room. The cost, picture quality and risk simply do not add up. For the computer, I believe HD-DVD will gain some acceptance as a niche product simply because Vista will support it, and I predict blank HD-DVD's will cost less. It is also my understanding the BlueRay is more infested with DRM than HD-DVD.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe you should defer your ctiticism.....
... until you actually have experienced good HDTV. Maybe when you
actually know what the options really are, your predictions might
have more merit.

There is one thing in your position's favor that you have
overlooked. MPEG-2 format demands a lot of space for HDTV. In
MPEG-4 or H.264, with their better compressions, the current dual
layer DVD might be quite satisfactory for HDTV. And they can use a
second disk if they want to add other pops, bells, and whistles
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Relax...
"Why is CNET making such a big issue out of HD-DVD and BlueRay?"

Because it's a cutting-edge technology, undergoing a painful birthing process. That seems a highly appropriate subject for CNET.

I would discount predictions of either success or failure for either format  or of the concept of high-definition DVD  at this point because about all we know of them is their technical specs. Most of us have never seen their output, learned their actual quirks and qualities, used one of their players -- or entertained their promotional campaigns that are sure to come.

"Plus, these new formats are loaded with DRM."

DRM is only onerous to most people if it interferes with what they consider "reasonable" use of the technology. DRM that is too heavy-handed will detract from a format and reduce its chances of success. I am not even sure if the DRM specs for either format have been completely nailed down, or whether every title will necessarily employ every aspect of DRM available to its format. That is one of the variables that remains to be seen.

Having two formats will likely result in slowed adoption of either format as average consumers wait for the winner to emerge. But it might also drive prices down faster on players and discs as the captains of each format attempt to force an early victory, which will be good for consumers. It is hard to imagine two formats enduring side-by-side for long, so that early fight may get awfully bloody awfully fast.

For now, relax. Until one format emerges sufficiently for you to invest your hard-earned dollars in the "winner", the slug-fest will be fun to watch.
Posted by Techno Guy (77 comments )
Link Flag
$29 DVD player vs ?
No contest. I'll keep my current DVD collection and use the $29 players for the next couple of years. Whent the $500 HD-DVD or $1500 Blu-Ray DVD players drop to $69 then I'll consider them.
Posted by likes2comment (101 comments )
Link Flag
Jumping the Gun
Prices will go down. They always do. The fact that these players will be launching for hundreds or thousands of dollars isn't really relevant as far as long term adoption is concerned. Prices will drop and consumers will adopt, it happened with DVD and it's happened with plenty of technologies before that.

Doubling storage doesn't really help in the long term. 4.5 GB vs. 9 GB of storage isn't really that significant a difference. People who are struggling with 4.5 GB of space now will be having the same problems with 9 GB in no time at all. I'm gonna agree with you that the cost of media could be a boon for HD-DVD. On the other hand though, I think that the need for end-user burning is a ways off. Most users will be happy writing to DVDs for the time being, just as they were happy writing to CDs until fairly late in DVD's life. Media prices will drop, and the winner of the "war" may have been determined by movie buyers long before the end-user media cost issue is relevant.

DRM is not that big a concern for the average consumer. There will be a portion of the population that will be irritated that they can't make "backups" of movies or stream the content to other machines. But I think its a very small population that will refuse to buy a movie because of DRM. The average consumer just wants to watch his movie in his living room, DRM doesn't prevent that.

I think its also worth noting that the movie studios aren't going to stop pursuing DRM. They have a valid economic interest. We can freak out about Sony root kits all we want and act surprised when the newest set of lawsuits are issued, but it only makes sense that content providers will try to protect their product. The studios simply aren't going to accept a format that they don't believe can protect their bottom line. HD-DVD and BlueRay aside, DRM is here to stay.
Posted by someguy389 (102 comments )
Link Flag
DRM is the only reason why you won't suport them
If you are looking for companies to make products with no DRM, don't hold your breath.
To be quite blunt, the kind of DRM that they are going to use on HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, at least on paper, is very fair.
You can watch the movies in any HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, dependent on the format of the disks. You can make managed copies with HD-DVD, and stream over wired and wireless networks.
DRM is becoming more and more fair, at least on DVD's, the next generation discs, and online music.
With CD's, for some reason, they are loading them up with DRM that even the ARTIST'S hate, and that is going to cost them in the long run.
Posted by Leria (585 comments )
Link Flag
History says Blu-ray will lose
The news from CES says Toshiba will release a HD-DVD player for $499 in March and Sony's Blu-ray will come out 3 months later for ~$1500.

If that's true.... case closed.
Posted by juser_bogus (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A $499 Blu-Ray machine by March...
... will be the Sony PS3! So, you don't need to pay $1500 for it, and it will also play games...!
Posted by aemarques (162 comments )
Link Flag
smart guy
follow him to know were.....sir_roy
Posted by lippin75 (9 comments )
Link Flag
More recent example than VHS vs. Betamax
The more recent example of this problem is the number of years it took before there were combo DVD-Audio/SACD players. By the time _good_ combo players available (i.e. that could play both formats equally well), it was too late. Most consumers had given up on the products and moved on. Industry executives that ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The Samsung representative quoted in the article has it right - these industry execs need to check their egos (and dreams of a vast royalty monopoly like DVD) at the door.

DRM is an entirely separate issue, but just as potent. Media publishers would do well to remember what happened to Digital Audio Tap (DAT) and Sony's MiniDisc.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Price will Tell
It all comes down to economics. It's easy to say that Blu-Ray if is signficantly more expensive than HD DVD it will lose in the market. However, the real question is not the actual total cost of the device to the licensee/reseller - it's the cost to the end-user. It will be interesting to see how major PC and TV-connected DVD manufacturers play the game, and price the product to the market. On a stand-alone basis, Blu-ray is likely to lose. However, on a bundled solution - there's more flexibility in pricing the final product out-the-door (e.g., desktop and laptop PCs). If PC manufacturers run "specials" and heavily discount the Blu-ray device (as opposed to offering smaller discounts on other components) they can drive the market demand for Blu-ray. Let's face it - when Dell tells the consumer "You cet a FREE CD/DVD RW with this oomputer" the consumer actually THINKS it's free! Guess what - there's NO free lunch. But marketing savvy can make a huge difference in "perceived" price vs. actual price. Bundle a "FREE" Blu-ray DVD player with a 42" plasma or LCD display and you could see more of both move off the shelves.

This will be a marketing war, not a pricing war. If that's the case, let me see:

Sony, Samsung, Phillips, Dell vs.
Microsoft, Intel & Toshiba ....

Microsoft's lost it's edge, this isn't an OS or office software. Intel Inside is a great pitch - but Intel still isn't a brand on much of anything else. Sony's a marketing powerhouse and Samsung has rocketed into the market. Dell is Dell, what more need be said? If it's a battle of marketing giants - Blu-ray could win DESPITE the licensing and manufacturing cost differential.
Posted by afbcasejr (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If BlueRay fails, will PS3 fail?
After all of Sony's mistakes, including forcing users to blindly install rootkit's on their pc's, Sony seems to be putting a lot of weight behind BlueRay.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE
"After all of Sony's mistakes, including forcing users to blindly install rootkit's on their pc's, Sony seems to be putting a lot of weight behind BlueRay."

It wouldn't be the first Sony's consumer electronics division has had to distance themselves from their content divisions. If BluRay fails the PS3 doesn't necessarly fail it just means you won't be using your PS3 to play all the latest HD movies. Considering the kind of stuff the movie industry has been churning out that's not such a big loss.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
First Round to Blu-Ray
I believe in the first round, Sony(Blu-Ray) is going to win. The PS3 is probably going to sell big time, and why not buy one of these, since they will be able to play Blu-Ray, Gaming Discs, Conventional DVDs, CDs and every other type of conventional disc?
By the time the X-box 360 catches up, will anyone still care about HD DVD? As for the other first-generation Blu-Ray and HD DVD players, since they won't be able to play gaming discs, are they really going to catch on with the average Joe, considering the cost? Maybe down the line when the price goes down, but not in the first round.
Posted by Michael G. (185 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree...let's not forget the overall increase in the earth's population
Power in numbers. All the kids that were too young to buy PS2 are now saving their pennies for the PS3.

All the kids that bought PS2 as their first console are now ready and waiting for the PS3. Now do all the same math for PS1. If they had Vegas odds, I'd say 10 million, at least, right out the door. The same friends I know that held off on buying the Dreamcast for the PS2 are holding off on the 360 for PS3. They're casual gamers that don't mind waiting. And Sony isn't pulling any punches talking about this fact either. Price is not an issue, the PS1 proved the gamers were there, and willing to buy. I'm routing for the underdog, but Sony has this one in the bag.
Posted by dwc16 (1 comment )
Link Flag
to win a first round...
you actually have to show up to the fight. blu-ray won't make it to the fight until the second round...or at least with only 10 seconds left in the first. so far, all they have done is send don king in to ramble on about 'only in america...'

PS3 has real business issues with their hardware partners that can't just be resolved by launching it. Given that, a late spring launch is really doubtful.
Posted by tlite722 (160 comments )
Link Flag
Blue Ray and HD DVD Don't hold your breath
If you want to force these titans into reaching an agreement on a single formatjust don't buy the product. I wont be buying a player until there is a single format.
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"stupid"
A reporter asked about a "universal" player. The executive leading the tour blew up and called the notion "stupid."

Reminds me of the time in 1986 when I was shopping for the Minolta Freedom III, one of the earlier auto everything point and shoot 35MM cameras. I stopped into a camera store and asked if they carried it. The proprietor actually laughed in my face and told me they would never carry a toy like that.
We all know how popular those cameras got. I went back a few years later to laugh in his face... the store was there, (filled with automatics) but under new ownership.
Pride and greed, baby. I wish we had the name of this brilliant executive so I could write him a letter in a few years.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what happened with Samsung
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=28855" target="_newWindow">http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=28855</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.engadget.com/2005/09/06/samsung-planning-dual-format-hd-dvd-blu-ray-disc-player/" target="_newWindow">http://www.engadget.com/2005/09/06/samsung-planning-dual-format-hd-dvd-blu-ray-disc-player/</a>

Not sure what happened to the Samsung Dual Format if this article is correct, as theinquirer posted the article just two days ago. Who's right in this?
Posted by freudian (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Sony is teaming up with Samsung
to produce LCD televisions. Being that, perhaps Sony has pressured Samsung to soley support BlueRay.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Link Flag
One Possible Answer
both articles may be correct. and i emphasize "may", because this is entirely speculation on my part.

if it's true that either camp imposes restrictions on combining the features of both formats into one drive, then perhaps samsung (or anyone else) is planning to make a device with two physical drives, ala the govideo devices of yore (and today, ftm).

if either camp restricts the opposing camp's format in the same physical box, then a mfg could be creative and make two boxes that have an interface that can allow them, when purchased separately, to be mechanically and electrically interfaced to appear to be and to operate as one device from one remote control.

if either camp restricts one mfg from supporting both formats--well, i'm not going there. some studios already are doing this, and i'm guessing that such an action would be illegal anyway (restraint of trade??).

bottom line: even if samsung makes one box with both drives, the additional complexity will hit both performance (think about dvd players that fail to play certain dvd's) and cost (both initial and life cycle--since more complex devices fail more quickly and either need repair or replacement).

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Are you saying it will be more than $499?
Doubt it.

Simply becuase it won't sell. I don't care about the features, I'm not spending a penny over $400. $499 is a stretch but your post makes it sound as if we'll be lucky to see it priced that low. If it's over $450(premium version if they have more than one) then I'll be getting a 360 and I bet most people will be doing the same thing.
Posted by (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
$499 price will be a killer........
Unless the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray or combo player gets under $150
damn soon, the market will abandon the concept and shift to
MPEG-4/h.264 HDTV movies on standard DVD's - which maybe
they should do anyhow. We would still need new players for the
new format, but the new codecs are just an electronic mod, the
player mechanism is unchanged. No blue laser, but none
needed. And production technology is already in place. And the
new players are easily backwards compatible with conventional
MPEG-2 DVD's.

Actually, I'm beginning to like the MPEG-4 idea a lot more than
any blue laser concept. What we need is some major movie
house to team with a good OEM and come out with the product
and software. It wouldn't take much, and I think it would be a
winner.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Online Video-On-Demand may trump any disc format
The next-gen DVD contestants have more than each other to worry about. The window of opportunity for a new disc-based format to triumph and deliver megabucks is quite narrow. From the past we've still got the very robust current DVD technology, which a large portion of consumers have only adopted within the past few years. Video stores are only now completing their conversion to DVD and most still stock a substantial VHS library, so I doubt they're going to be very proactive in embarking on another replenishment of a new DVD format. A lack of rentable titles will be a major disincentive for most potential buyers of new DVD format players. And the current DVD's still aren't being seen to their full advantage on most people's AV setups. If you get an upsampling (is that the right term? -- you know what I mean) modern DVD player and hook it up to a widescreen HDTV, you'll get a major picture improvement already especially for widescreen movies that until now we've been viewing in a low-res letterbox on 4:3 standard TV's. That's the logical short-term upgrade path for a vast majority of folks today, with no need for a new DVD format at all.

Coming up in the future will be online video-on-demand. If this becomes feasible even at current DVD quality, the element of choice and near-instant gratification will provide substantial competition to a conventional disc-based distribution model, even if the latter has clear superiority in picture quality. We've seen this happen already with music -- for years audiophiles have eagerly awaited the next generation of digital music discs with higher sampling rates and other innovations that could deliver sound quality far beyond CD's, and then suddenly from left field the music industry is scooped by mp3's, a lower-fi format that is "good enough" for most people and is rapidly moving music distribution to an entirely online model. I suspect (and fervently hope) we'll still see a superior new music format arise but it will likely be distributed online and not on disc at all.

I'm an AV fidelity snob myself, but I've gotta say it's a gas being able to download pretty much any tune I think of or read about and listen to it right away. Same with movies, or even more so, since we'll all listen to a beloved album a hundred times over but how often will we watch even our favourite movies? So if I had a choice I'd rather plunk down a grand to access a vast library of DVD-quality video-on-demand than get a next-gen DVD disc player and buy expensive movies in the new format and/or hope video stores will quickly stock a huge selection of titles.

Thus the window of opportunity for a new DVD format is squished between the still highly satisfactoruy current DVD format that most people haven't yet seen the full potential of, and a brave new world of online video-on-demand with a virtually unlimited selection of immediately available titles. What the new disc format may end up being most useful for is recording and storing video obtained online, unless a major breakthrough in mass data storage makes even that application obsolete ("hey, check out my new 10,000-terabyte organic crystal storage cube -- only $250 at Best Buy!").
Posted by D-Lysid (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Have you considered bandwidth requrements????
5 GB MPEG-2 movie at 6 Mbps bandwidth is a 3 hour operation,
tolerable, but not likely to be routine. Streaming the movie real
time takes perhaps the full 6 Mbps. Shifting to MPEG-4/H.264
can cut the lost by maybe 50%,but still heavy.

And that's for one person. Now imagine that a million or more
movies are called for at any given time. Can the Internet really
take this kind of load????

You could be right in some ways - but there will be so many
people for whom downloading a movie is beyond their perceived
skills. What do we do for them???
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
make a decision
I can't believe the industry can't get behind one of the two worthy formats. Sure, they each have their slight advantages, but they're both usable. Flip a coin and have a single standard. We'll all win. Oh, and while you're at it, have Sirius buy XM.
Posted by jbattan (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BFM
You don't think they'll cooperate? Bovine fecal matter!!! As soon as these recorders start to sell, both sides will be trembling in fear, wondering if it will be the next VHS, or the next BetaMax. They'll cooperate, and quick.
Posted by chrisw63 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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