October 11, 2006 10:53 AM PDT

NEC unveils chip to bridge Blu-ray/HD DVD divide

A truce between the Blu-ray and HD DVD worlds is still probably a way off, but NEC has come up with a chip that could help companies bridge the gap.

The chip, essentially a controller, works in both Blu-ray and HD DVD players. One chip that works with both standards could cut the cost of building a player that accomodates Blu-ray and HD DVD discs.

The chip will start shipping in April 2007, NEC said.

The appearance of a combination player, however, could still take time. Companies such as Pioneer and LG announced plans to come out with combination players, but later backed away.

Cost is the main culprit. Blu-ray players cost about $1,000, and the player/recorders, which won't be coming to the U.S. immediately, run about $3,200. HD DVD players start at around $500, but the recorders cost about the same.

The high price, in part, is due to components. Since mass manufacturing has just begun, the parts still cost a lot, although prices will decline in 2007. Sony, in fact, had to stagger the release of the PlayStation 3 because of shortages of lasers. Nonetheless, Stan Glasgow, president of Sony Electronics, recently said that Blu-ray players could drop to $500 by the end of next year.

Even with the expected price declines, building a hybrid player would involve redundant components. Other components that can handle both standards would also likely have to be developed to bring the price of a hybrid player down.

But royalties are also a factor. The companies that invented the standards could make millions in licensing fees over the next decade if their standard gets adopted widely. Building a combo player, therefore, would require paying royalties to both camps.

Further complicating the matter are the high emotions generated by the dispute. Last week at the Ceatec trade show in Japan, reporters asked Kazuhiro Tsuga, an executive officer at Matsushita Electric, a firm member of the Blu-ray camp, about the possibility of Blu-ray/HD DVD combo players hitting the market.

"That is stupid, stupid," he said, noting that the cost would be high. Matsushita sells products under the Panasonic name in the U.S.

Still, other manufacturers are intrigued by the idea, especially if the format wars hurt sales. Hitachi, which is concocting a camcorder that will record directly to Blu-ray discs, said it will study the issue of a combo recorder after Blu-ray is established in the market.

See more CNET content tagged:
HD-DVD, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., NEC Electronics Corp., Blu-ray, standards

12 comments

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Royalties?
"But royalties are also a factor. The companies that invented the
standards could make millions in licensing fees over the next
decade if their standard gets adopted widely. Building a combo
player, therefore, would require paying royalties to both camps."

Somehow, i just don't buy it. Royalties alone are not going to
double the cost. once more components become compatible
with both standards, i would certainly pay an extra couple of
hundred or so dollars for a product which plays both. I mean,
rather that than buy 2 separate $500-1000 players. I Can not
really believe they are not going to pay 2 sets of royalties, (if
there would not be too many redundant components required),
is gonna dissuade companies if faced with the possibility of
alienating as much as half the HD market.
Posted by bitesizepankakes (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Double the cost?
It never said royalties will double the cost...

A hybrid drive will cost more because of the components like the lasers and the royalties to both camps.
Posted by Gasaraki (183 comments )
Link Flag
Royalties are the REASON behind the split
It has nothing to do with the superiority of one format over the other, the reason the players haven't united behind a single standard is the hope of getting royalty payments.

Personally I hope a new standard emerges and displaces both of these simply because the developers of these two "standards" can't agree.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Winner Take All
I think the real reason we won't see a hybrid player is that these companies are trying to defeat one another's standard early in the race

If both technologies succeed, hybrid players are inevitable, but none of the CE companies want to be the first to give in -- none want to admit that the competing standard is gaining traction.

All this will come at the expense of consumers, of course. Format wars during the development phase can push the bounds of technology (i.e. when companies battle towards a common standard), but format wars in the marketplace are never healthy.

People like me will wait until this blows over and I can buy a combo player for $250, by which time the next standard will be brewing...

-MisterWinky
Posted by Mister Winky (301 comments )
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Better wait for the air to clear.
Better wait for the air to clear.

I am hoping HD/DVD wins as I prefer a lower cost.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
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NEC is the only rational company in this war
Since Blu-Ray and HD-DVD companies can't come together, NEC and whatever companies end up making the hybrid players will be the ones the consumers will flock to, as they found a simple solution.

I would much rather pick up a disc and know I can play it, rather than being restricted to one format or forced to have 2 expensive players. (I'd much rather have 1 slightly more expensive player.)

Plus, if one side does win, you aren't stuck with obsolete equipment had you chose the wrong side. Customers are turned off by the prospective of betting on the wrong horse.
Posted by airwalkery2k (117 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NEC is the only rational company in this war
Since Blu-Ray and HD-DVD companies can't come together, NEC and whatever companies end up making the hybrid players will be the ones the consumers will flock to, as they found a simple solution.

I would much rather pick up a disc and know I can play it, rather than being restricted to one format or forced to have 2 expensive players. (I'd much rather have 1 slightly more expensive player.)

Plus, if one side does win, you aren't stuck with obsolete equipment had you chose the wrong side. Customers are turned off by the prospective of betting on the wrong horse.
Posted by airwalkery2k (117 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NEC is the winner here.
Since Blu-Ray and HD-DVD companies can't come together, NEC and whatever companies end up making the hybrid players will be the ones the consumers will flock to, as they found a simple solution.

I would much rather pick up a disc and know I can play it, rather than being restricted to one format or forced to have 2 expensive players. (I'd much rather have 1 slightly more expensive player.)

Plus, if one side does win, you aren't stuck with obsolete equipment had you chose the wrong side. Customers are turned off by the prospective of betting on the wrong horse.
Posted by airwalkery2k (117 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A Duel-Format Player Isn't The Way To Go
The only benefit that a duel-format player has is letting you watch rented video. If you start buying video in either format, then you still run the risk of getting stuck with a partially obsolete machine and not too mention any video in the format that loses.

So you would still have to repurchase something (most likely re-releases of the videos) to continue to enjoy the videos. The reason I say you would have to re-buy the videos is once a format wins, that format player will be the only one you can buy. This is why you'll still get stuck buying about half of your videos again and makes no sense in buying a hybrid player.
Posted by aka_tripleB (2211 comments )
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Well never be a player, against licencing agreement
NEC made the chip IN HOPES that sony and Toshiba would concede to allow the hybrid players to be produced, the companys would only do this to hedge thier bets on thier own format and they would both have to agree (I assume thats the case with toshiba, I know they have declined to allow hybrid players to be produced but I do not know if it is also agianst thier licencing agreement as it is with sony) but either way this will never hit Amarican (or any other major market, if any market at all) the most I expect to see from this is one or two prototypes sitting in hitachi or some other manufacturers warehouse.
No new development, there are already prototype blu ray players, but none can be sold on the open market.
Posted by Chase211 (6 comments )
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No restrictions in license
There's a misconception, created largely by an article by John Dvorak, that the BD or HD DVD license prohibits hybrid players. This is simply not true. First off, people who have read the license have confirmed that there's no such prohibition, and second, there's no way such license would be accepted. Can you say "antitrust" and "restraint of trade"?
Posted by Zappoman (1 comment )
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