LG’s "ultra-multi" player could launch wave of HD DVD / Blu-ray hybrid components

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LG's "ultra-multi" player could launch wave of HD DVD / Blu-ray hybrid components

Los Angeles (CA) – A spokesperson for LG Electronics in North America confirmed to Reuters today that his company had sent a memo to its retailers, urging them to prepare for the release this fall of a high-definition video disc player capable of playing both HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. LG sells components in the US and Canada, including under the Zenith brand.

This news at least partially confirms speculation this week – the sort of thing that generally sweeps over the CeBIT show floor like a virus – that major CE manufacturers are planning rollouts of hybrid high-def disc players, which attendees are calling “ultra-multi” players, for lack of an official term. Such speculation was fueled by announcements from system-on-a-chip (SoC) manufacturers such as Atmel – the chipset producers of the CE world – of single, mass-produced components that could provide all the necessary logic for any kind of DVD player or recorder, high-def or low, blue-laser or red.

The language of such announcements made it clear to CeBIT attendees that the technological differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD players could indeed be so trivial as to make it non-economical for manufacturers to produce players for only one format. When first word of the possibility of hybrid components was leaked to the press last September, manufacturers who were squarely in one camp or the other (HP was a firm Blu-ray supporter at the time) discounted their likelihood. Now, HP has proclaimed its neutrality, as did LG last week. If Atmel’s and others’ claims prove true, then LG may be the first of a wave of companies to simply take the plunge, proclaim their neutrality, and address the high-def market as a whole.

The first companies to feel market pressure from such a move, if it happens, would be those perceived as the champion of their respective formats: Sony for Blu-ray, and Toshiba for HD DVD. Such companies may encounter difficulties justifying premium price points for players that are only capable of servicing half the discs on the market, or not playing all available high-definition movies. Just today, Sony acknowledged it finally received word that trickled down from its own CEO in an interview last week, that its release of PlayStation 3 would be delayed until November. Problems with Sony’s implementation of AACS copy protection for Blu-ray have been cited as the cause for the delay; and sources which manufacture components for Sony have indicated they would otherwise be ready for production now, if something else weren’t delaying them.

PlayStation 3 has been touted up until now as the premiere delivery vehicle for Blu-ray Disc in North America and Western Europe. If LG and others beat Sony to market with hybrid players, then Sony could find its big premiere upstaged. What’s more, consumers may very well conclude they don’t want a single-format player, so long as two formats insist upon sharing the high-def market, even if that player comes attached to a really cool game console.

Meanwhile, as movie studios delay the release of HD DVD movies until weeks, at least, into the national rollout tour for its HD DVD players, Toshiba finds itself in a similar debacle, only in a much shorter timeframe. As things stand now, the premiere delivery vehicles for both HD DVD and Blu-ray could both fizzle, with companies like LG scooping up whatever glory is left from high-definition video.

Reuters’ story today did not indicate whether its hybrid player would also serve as a hybrid recorder, though it’s extremely likely. LG Electronics’ US representatives have been contacted by TG Daily for comment.