Latest Blu-ray, HD-DVD prototypes at CES

The ongoing march towards high-definition video discs saw several new prototype players revealed last week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Sony showed three prototype Blu-ray Disc players that support the BD-ROM format that will be used for prerecorded HD video discs.

Of the three, each supported one of the three BD-ROM standard's video codecs. One model was showing a movie encoded at 26M bps (bits per second) in MPEG2, another showed content encoded in VC1 (the Microsoft Windows Media-based format) at a constant bit rate of 12M bps and the final prototype played content encoded in MPEG4 AVC format at a variable bit rate of between 10M bps and 15M bps.

On show from Philips Electronics was a consumer player and PC drive supporting BD-ROM. The company last unveiled a Blu-ray Disc prototype at the Ceatec show in Japan in 2002 and the devices at CES represented work the company has been doing over the last two years, said Ing Janssen, a research scientist for Philips Research.

Because of a lack of high-definition TV broadcasting in Europe few people have HDTV sets and so Philips is concentrating its development work on PC drives, he said. The drive on show at CES was compatible with CD-RW, DVD -/+ R/RW formats and dual layer discs in addition to 25G-byte and 50G-byte Blu-ray Discs.

HD video disc players combined with hard-disk drive recorders were also demonstrated by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic). Panasonic's Blu-ray Disc prototype included a 400G-byte hard disk drive and was demonstrated connected to a flat-panel TV via a power-line networking system that Panasonic announced at CES.

Nearby, Toshiba was also demonstrating some of the interactive functions supported by HD-DVD. It was the first time the company has showed them publically, said Yuuichi Togashi, a software specialist in the company's digital media network division.

The prototype machine -- work on which was only finished days before CES -- was decoding a high-definition MPEG4 AVC movie and overlaying onto it a standard definition director's commentary video that was also being decoded in real-time from a standard-definiton MPEG2 file on the disc. The same player also supported interactive game play and the ability to ability to purchase access to locked content stored on the disc, both of which were demonstrated.

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Martyn Williams

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