CES - LG to launch combo Blu-ray disc, HD DVD player

Combo Blu-ray-HD DVD player wasn't a question of if, but when

It was bound to happen: In the mess known as the high-def format wars, eventually, it was clear a manufacturer would cross party lines and release a single player capable of handling both Blu-ray Discs and HD DVD discs. The question wasn't if; it was a question of when.

LG Electronics is the first to cross that line: The company has just announced it will be launching the first dual-format high-definition disc player at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. The LG press release issued in Korea early Thursday morning is short on details--the player will launch in "early 2007", but beyond that, we have no information on pricing--but that's of little consequence for now. I imagine the details will become clear by Sunday, when LG holds its press conference at CES.

LG stated it was considering a dual-format player at the CeBIT show last March, but the company has been quiet about its progress until now. The company is the first to formally announce a dual-format player; prior to this, Ricoh and NEC had both announced they had developed components that could read both Blu-ray and HD DVD media, but neither had announced actual products. Samsung had also made rumblings about coming out with a dual-format player, but the company backtracked on those reports early last year.

The LG announcement dramatically alters the competitive landscape for Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. The mere announcement of a dual-format player could stall the market for high-definition players and discs, as consumers anticipate the dual-format player's arrival. A dual-format player would offer consumers a hedge against obsolescence, in the event one of the disc formats dies out over time.

And once the dual-format player does come out, it could ignite the market for high-definition players and discs, a market that's still in its infancy.

Price will likely play a big role, though, in the dual-format player's success. If the player is expensive--and, certainly, I expect it to carry a premium over a standalone player, at least at launch--its high price may deter consumers from buying right now. However, if the dual-format player's premium is an acceptable one to consumers, then the player could take off--in turn driving consumers to buy movies in high-definition, without having to worry about which studios are backing which disc format.

However, while a dual-format player will help consumers worried about buying into the wrong format, it won't help content producers. Dual-format players will remain a rarity, for at least the next year. If dual-format players do become the norm, studios will be faced with a quandary: Continue to support both formats, a costly endeavour, or release new and catalogue content in just one of the disc formats--thereby foregoing support of those early adopters who bought into whichever disc format falls by the wayside.

Are you itching to buy a high-def disc player? Does news of a dual-format player make you more likely to buy a high-def disc player in the next year?

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