January 9, 2006 12:18 PM PST

Blu-ray, HD DVD players: Clunky, unimpressive

LAS VEGAS--Amid the glitz and ultra-cutting-edge high-tech gadgets spread over what seemed like the 20 or 30 square miles of the Consumer Electronics Show here, if you wanted to find a 1980s-era VCR, there were two places to look: The Blu-ray and HD DVD exhibits.

All kidding aside, it was shocking how entirely un-high-tech most of the Blu-ray and HD DVD players on display looked. Each of the formats was represented by machines from many of the leading consumer electronics manufacturers--Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, RCA, Mitsubishi and so on--yet one would have walked away from perusing each of the exhibits with a sense that the companies had neglected line items for design in their budgets.

Photos: Worst-dressed gadgets? Blu-ray and HD DVD players

On the plus side, the players produced some of the crispest video I've ever seen. Pumping movies like "Chicken Little" onto equally impressive HD televisions, the players' video output trumped nearly everything else on the gargantuan CES floor.

But to look at the machines, one definitely got a sense of being in an electronics store in 1983. Except there weren't any price tags--the companies didn't provide pricing info--and not all the machines were store ready, only the ones with model numbers. The rest were prototypes.

The first machine I saw was Mitsubishi's prototype Blu-ray player. It was big and kind of intimidating. It had few visible buttons, and I couldn't decide if that meant the machine would have a simple and elegant user interface or whether it had only a small number of features. Either way, it was not at all impressive to look at.

On the other hand, it was positively sleek compared with Panasonic's first production Blu-ray player, the DMR-E700BD. This thing was big and bulky and plodding, even as it produced stunning video. It felt odd seeing such great looking pictures from something that looked so utterly out of date.

Yet, even that machine wasn't the worst-looking of them all. That honor went to Sony's BDP-S1, its first attempt at a standalone Blu-ray player. The machine is huge and thick and had the same kind of buttons on its front as Sony's old Trinitron TVs. Coming from the company that's championing Blu-ray, the BDP-S1 felt like a betrayal of the principles of modern industrial design.

That's not to say, of course, that all the Blu-ray machines were ugly. Not all. Some were merely pedestrian.

LG Electronics' BD199, for example, was perhaps the thinnest and smallest of the Blu-ray bunch and had a nice collection of back-lit buttons on top. And its design spoke of simplicity and thoughtfulness, especially in comparison with some of the other companies' offerings.

Pioneer's BPD-HD1 reminded me of a high-end CD player. But it had a collection of very low-tech lights on the front that definitely detracted from its overall appearance.

Meanwhile, the players over at the HD DVD exhibit were no more impressive than their Blu-ray counterparts.

The worst of the HD DVD bunch was RCA's prototype, a huge, bulky monstrosity of a device that looked like it should have had "Betamax" imprinted on it somewhere.

A little better was the prototype player from HD DVD backer Toshiba. It was bigger than I would've liked, and had some pretty unimpressive looking buttons behind a flip down door on the front, but at least it had one somewhat modern feature: two USB ports.

Hewlett-Packard also had an offering in the HD DVD camp, a digital entertainment center that reminded me a lot of an old dual cassette player I had when I was in college in the early 1990s. Its sole design nod to the 21st century was its pleasant blue-backlit power button.

And LG had an HD DVD player that had exactly the same design as its Blu-ray offering.

In the end, the experience of looking at both the Blu-ray and HD DVD offerings can best be described as unsettling. There's been so much hype in recent months about the two formats because of what they offer from a technological standpoint.

Blu-ray promises discs with 50 gigabytes of storage, which means nine hours of high-definition storage or 23 hours of standard-definition storage. It also offers bit rates of 48mbps, stunning compared with standard DVD bit rates, which weigh in at just 10mbps. For its part, HD DVD will offer up to 45GBs of storage and up to 12 hours of HD playback.

43 comments

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They aren't that bad
Am I the only one who thinks that these players don't look all that bad? I rather like the older looking designs. The offerings from Panasonic and Mitsubishi remind me of the old RCA SelectaVision CED players that were competing with video tape and laserdisc formats early on.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
by looks only...
i don't feel either way about sony as a label (i just don't buy their disk players), but i think their bd machine looks pretty impressive. that's if we're talking about these things as if they were empty boxes. But Daniel Terdiman does sound like he came to cnet straight from E!channel. No offense, buddy.
Posted by whatbegemot (1 comment )
Link Flag
What are you expecting?
I would like them to be a little more modern or cutting-edge in design as well, but they're first generation and, as far as we can tell, the stereo-component-boxy look is what people buy.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
so what?
How can an article spend so much time devoted to something as trivial as what these things look like, and virtually nothing on how well they *work*??
Posted by jk55092 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Looks matter
Not really to me, but then I don't spend $2,000 on a disc player.

However, the crowd that DOES spend that kind of dough is *EXACTLY* the crowd that cares *MOST* about how impressive their components look.

If you don't think that's true, look at any high end line of home theater components. People buy Krell or MacIntosh as much to show off how much money they put into their theater as they do the quality.

No, I'm not defending it, but if I were disigning the first gen of HD-DVD players, I'd double my sales numbers simply by being the only one that doesn't look stupid. (Yes, they look stupid, at least the ones I saw.)
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
Looks do matter!
When a sleek, sexy, awesome machine has the look of quality it matters, until I see the SONY name on it, then I remember the rootkit they gave me and I look elsewhere.
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Link Flag
Yes! Don't judge a book by its cover, etc...
From the particular angle in these photos these early units do indeed look a bit clunky--but my guess is that's more an artifice of the camera and the alone-inside-a-glass-case setting than anything else. I'll bet that when placed on the top of a large TV in a stack of other components, and/or viewed edge-on in a room at a reasonable distance, that these housings will look a lot less "intimidating."

I'll also wager that when the lights go dim and the movie is playing that all of these players will become pretty much invisible. The idea of "perspective" seems to have been lost here, and it's as if the author believes that these units will be placed atop a three-foot-tall pedestal, enshrined inside a glass case, in the center of his living room.

I guess there are always going to be people who prefer style over substance, appearances over reality. But this author rants as if under the impression that the proper place for these units is to wear them as hats or to strap them on like knapsacks.
Posted by Walt Connery (89 comments )
Link Flag
You're a geek!
Only a geek would neglect style!
Posted by PT78 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Stunning Design Ignorance
You're looking at prototypes and early-adopter models and critiquing their design as if they were being sold as mature products. If you had any experience in consumer electronics you would know what that means and how those products are designed.

To expect elegance and impressive feature lists from prototypes is ridiculous. The ink isn't even dry on the format specs, how could the designers even know what features the public will demand?
Posted by bweinman (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Size does matter
I will agree with the author, I would not want any of these prototypes as a centerpeice in my AV setup based on aesthetics. Looking at the size of the prototypes I would not expect the first wave of consumer products to be much smaller; it is new technology after all. I doubt any of the consumer HD players will be all that stylish to begin with, except maybe for the insanely expensive ones. Bringing the players to the market at a semi-reasonable price will be the manufacturers 1st priority and design will be on the low end of the buget list. As for performance, the author said pretty much all ther is to say, HD is stunning. But most of us already know how nice HD looks.
Posted by sigma_7a (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is relevant
Some of the previous posters' have asked why this is relevant. The relvance is that it gives a clue about the state of development and market readiness.

If you expect these things to be market ready by Christmas, then you might be in a for a suprise. The problem is that most factories are not designed to deliver inventory for an entire Christmas season using only one month of production.

Instead, the factories begin producing the previous December to begin building up production for the subsequent Christmas.

If we are at mid-January, and they don't have a polished production-ready prototype to display then expect there to be shortages come Christmas.

Especially telling is Sony's lack of a polished system. Even if the PS3 was not ready for full unveiling, if PS3 was expected to debut in the next six months, then you would have expected that they could put out a PS3 to show off Blu-ray. There could be many other reasons for not using the PS3, but the sheer size of the Sony unit is not a good omen for their readiness to squeeze Blu-Ray into a PS3 along with all of the other required game hardware.

Michael
Posted by emellaich (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Market Rediness
That's exactly it though. Many of these are just prototypes where the designers are looking at the video, not the box the player is housed in.

It will be a while before the sales of these units can justify the latest interface improvements we expect to see on high end consumer electronics. They are going to use older style interfaces to keep their costs down until the volume of sales increases.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Fashion Show?!?
Last I checked, a DVD player is valuable, not because of the plastic box around it, but because it can play high quality video consistently, and is easy to use. I don't understand the negative light that this article casts on the devices...it seems somewhat naieve.
Posted by nikkel_j (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re
hd dvd and blue ray using the same mechanical parts as a dvd, one could expect them to output something as designed as current dvd players. i am sure the chips inside can force them to have so bulky items.
Posted by Pascoli (74 comments )
Link Flag
it isn't just a problem for prototypes
While it's understandable that these companies are putting out their prototype "mules" for hd, it's sad how many companies are still putting out oversized chasis for the mature components like receivers and dvd/receiver combos. People can't enjoy the space savings of flat-panel tv's or their light weight versatility if they're still chained to a big component rack for the audio/dvd part. We need more slim vertical towers and low-profile disc players, not recycled 1970's vhs boxes full of empty space.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thank you, Mr. Blackwell
Just as the *most* important thing in Hollywood is how a movie
star looks on the red carpet, the most important thing in consumer
electronics is how a prototype that will never be sold to the public
looks.

I'm glad someone is publishing what no one has the ovaries to
publish.
Posted by slmpckns (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Read the Article Moron...
Not all of them were prototypes. The ones with model numbers are going to market.

R
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
Sort of Relevant
I have to agree that nothing shown would convince me to part with $1800, heck my TV only displays 1080I so I'm not convinced I would really benefit all that much from one anyway, but I think the reporter missed a glaringly obvious fact here.

No one has produced a blue laser player before, and we simply don't know what kind of electronics - and space for that matter - are required for this.

It could be that the laser and associated components require so much room, that big, clunky devices are all you're going to get for the next couple of years.

But you have to agree, the designs of just about every blu ray player (I haven't seen the HD DVD players - so I'll take the reporter's word for their lack of elegance) look like something from the early eighties.

The thing that surprises me though, is not that these devices need to be large in order to accomodate the required components and moving parts, but that the casing, lights, buttons, etc have no elegance in design.

This does matter, especially if you want to convince people they are investing nearly $2000 in something that is supposed to be next generation.

Instead unless you have the display device to match the output, and indeed the media to take advantage of both, you'll look like you've been had.

Interestingly is what the final design of the PS3 will look like.

If it looks as bad as Sony's blu ray player, they're going to be sorry, even if it will put the price of such players into the reach of the average joe.

Consider - the prices most people are talking about for these devices ranges between $800 - $1800, and will probably be something inbetween.

Now consider Sony are considering selling their console for about $600 and do the math.

Simply put, the PS3 will be the must have device for the next 2 or 3 years, especially if the add-on HD DVD player MS produces matches the average cost of other standalone players.

Are MS really going to take a hit on a second piece of hardware, just to make money from games?

They are already losing money on the XBox 360 in it's current configuration, and would have to sell the HD DVD player for under $300 to match the PS3 price.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Drive size...
The drive size of the blu laser devices should be no larger than existing CD or DVD drives. You will have Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives in lap tops on the market within the next 24 months. You will also see USB connectable external HD-DVD and Blue-ray drives for laptops and PCs early this year.

The form factor of the set top box is just not a huge priority when getting the capabilities of the high definition players on the market.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft have a neat solution....
The Xbox360 Microsoft branded HD DVD Drive will almost certainly not be a standalone player. It will be a Laptop PC type USB2 HD DVD drive in a box probably powered via the USB cable so yo ucan use it with your PC too if desired. Expect to see a price around $150. So they will kick Sony into touch by offering a choice. If you buy a Sony PS3 you HAVE to have the built in Blu Ray 'BetaMax V2' drive...If you buy an Xbox360 you can choose which drive yo uwant and if by some miracle BluRay beats HD DVD out of the market then Microsoft can offer those too...

nb - Your comment 'I only have 1080i' shows that you are completely clueless.

FYI - on your comment "No one has produced a blue laser player before, and we simply don't know what kind of electronics - and space for that matter - are required for this" - Well Toshiba are already shipping an HD DVD drive for LAPTOPS to manufacturers, and it is the smae tiny size as a normal Laptop DVD drive, so yes we do know.
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Link Flag
Just wait.....
Just wait till ya get it home and find out you have to run a phone line to your new DVD player to play HD-DVDs.
I noticed they didnt talk about that 'Feature' at all. I wonder why ?????
Posted by JohnRoss1968 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give it time
I imagine that the players will be sleek and spiffy if the companies can ever settle on a format. The electronics are probably still discrete components and not VLSI chips which will cut down the size of the units in the end production. You can't expect them to spend a lot of production design money just to find out the format is dead.
Lets give it some time.
Posted by JayBeeTee (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It is about the money...
They aren't going to invest in sleek designs until the market matures some. Same is true for most new electronic components. Everyone seems to think each new device should be as sleek as the Ipod but forget that the media player didn't show up for a good 3 years after the market existed.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
I think they're sexy
Give me an HD DVD player with a 1080p output and a Sony 70" SXRD with 1080p input that I can buy in the local home theater shop and I'll have an 8 hour e-gasm that would make Sting jealous. I don't care if it looks like friggin UNIVAC as long as it puts out that sweet picture. I want it now! Stop teasing us and give us what we want!
Posted by TechJunkie (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ummm...maybe the reporter should use google
the reporter didn't even need to go to the show to know that toshiba and RCA players have announced pricing which he claims was unavailable. you see...you can't ask the pizza concession guy pricing...he doesn't know. perhaps if you actually asked someone or attended the toshiba press conference on jan. 4th. toshiba and RCA (the model number of that rca 'prototype' is HDV-5000) will have players starting at $499 and toshiba has another higher end unit for $799...all available in march. toshiba will also launch HD-DVD integrated notebooks at the same time. if you don't want to do the leg work, you can google it...but i was at the show and saw them too and they aren't as bad looking as the the reporter states...but then again beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

it is blu-ray that has not announced pricing or a solid launch date because of issues they won't talk about or admit to. my prediction is PS3 won't launch in the spring as rumored and it will be much higher priced than everyone thinks...perhaps even double of the 360 price.
Posted by tlite722 (160 comments )
Reply Link Flag
oops...my bad yo...
pioneer has put some numbers on their blu-ray BDP-HD1...$1,800 (yes, US dollars)...sweet...where do i NOT get one of those? i'd rather buy 1,800 orders of wendy's 5 piece chicken nuggets and give that a go. and what's up with 5? i thought the nugget standard is 6. really...how much does ol dave save on that nugget?
Posted by tlite722 (160 comments )
Link Flag
BluRay = BetaMax V2....
Yep, you can buy an Xbox 360 now and add on whatever HD drive you want later via USB2(Microsoft have stated they will be providing a branded HD DVD accessory).

Or you can wait to spend probably twice as much on a PS3 that probably wont ship worldwide until 2007 and includes a compulsory built in BluRay 'Betamax V2' drive....
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Link Flag
No Component HD Output
Why isn't it huge news that the vast majority of HD monitor and projector owners will not be able to use any of the new HD DVD and Blueray players? None of they support component video output which is required for older HD monitors and video projectors. Until recently it has been extremely difficult to even find a HD monitor with DVI and HDCP. There won't even be a converter. In fact such a converter would be a violation of the law. Most of us that bought HD monitors and projectors were looking forward to the release of HD DVD and Blueray players. Now we are stuck with obsolete hardware.
Posted by grangerfx (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There are convertors.
Convertors that remove HDCP and leave you with a clean DVI signal are widely available for approx. £250, even if possibly illegal in some places. HDCP was cracked totally months ago with only a limited amount of computing power required.
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Link Flag
I could care less.
I doubt that rental stores are going to rush to get these disks on their shelves until the average person can buy one of these AND have a reasonable assurance that they're not buying a "Betamax." HECK, they're still renting TONS of VHS tapes even though you can BUY A DVD PLAYER FOR UNDER $30. HEY, there's a message there!!! "Don't expect to see a rush to dump regular old DVD until the next generation player gets close to $30.
Posted by cmalerts (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They dont look "too" bad...
Really to me they all look like retro 80s VCRs or clock radios. I guess maybe by using a VCR look, they hope to capture people's memory of the last victor in the format wars. Either that or look like an expensive clock radio!
Posted by Thrymm (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who cares?
Well I'm shocked - another crappy article from one of Cnet's resident hacks.

Does anyone remember what the first DVD players looked like? They were on the large side too. What exactly is Mr Terdiman's point then?
Posted by swatch60 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
good article
i don't know what u guys needed to know but the writer did say early in the article that the video was impressive. manufacturers should have a better idea about what the public would like or use on their devices considering the 30 odd years of video player wars. the way the player looks makes a big difference to someone who needs a player to "fit in" to their current entertainment center. this is not a small stakes game...make your presence known from the get go. what a weak presentation to a state of the art device. personally, i have been turned off to the aggressive and greedy methods of Sony and will never support sony products...if i can help it. HD DVD ALL THE WAY!
Posted by vicentemota (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hi! I have a product design. A design for a DVD, blue ray or just a CD player. I've been reading your comments and I totally agree with you. That is why I would like to ask you a little favor. Can you tell me how can I present a design that maybe can make SONY to give more accent to the design of their products. My English is not very good, but I hope you'll understand my question. :)
Posted by SimonSTJ (1 comment )
Link Flag
Daniel Terdiman is right on it.
Daniel Terdiman is right about how big and ugly those DVD players are.
I am going to give you one example.
If apple ipod is the most popular(%70 share of market worldwide) mp3 player it's because how ipod looks. In my opnion ipod is the greatest good looking mp3 player out there but thats all. I have my 4th ipod right on the table here and it's going to be the last one soon. Because there way better player than ipod on the market right now. But people most people think they dont have other choices
Posted by hewal (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flashback
Holie Moley, he is right. I was around those days, of mega boom boxes mini system and the like.

This sounds like they have gone retro...but it is more of an indication. They have no idea on how to present the look of the next gen in DVD viewing.

Pity.

*Playing Every Breath you Take...every move you make*
Posted by Junkie Man of Machine (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you know what your DVD looks like?
How many people ever look at there DVD player any way? Most people who buy first generation blue ray/HD DVD will keep them in the projection room. Yes, someone will need to look at them to install and operate them but that is what the household staff is for.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yottabytes On a DVD
I'm trying to get an idea what this sounds like to someone experienced in DVD storage and the Yottabyte.

A developer and patent owner whom I've invested some capital in has prototypes of equiptment that can do several tasks.

1. Reproduce high definition DVD's that are top quality with out the expense of making a master DVD.

2. reproduce such a dvd in a small fraction of a second.

3. store 4 yottabytes on a single dvd.

Does the last one seem even possible to anyone experienced in this technology?

The player technology patents show that the cost of such a player will not have to be many hundreds of dollars per unit to produce as it does not have the many lasers now needed to build a high definition dvd player.

Comments please. SB
Posted by StevenBerglund (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Are they big enough
Gee could they make the cases any bigger. All of that technology and they couldn't figure out how to make it smaller. Also, what are they thinking, over $1000 for one. No thanks.
Posted by Skettimos (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
choice
I don't care who "wins"will the world just pick one fast so i do not get screwed over again(beta max anyone). :D
Posted by tony2965 (1 comment )
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