CES: LG unveils combo high-def disc player

It also touted a PC drive that plays the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats

LAS VEGAS -- LG Electronics Inc. took a big step on Sunday toward ending the latest-generation DVD format battle by unveiling a player and a PC drive that support both the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats.

2007 International CES

2007 International CES: January 8-11, Las Vegas

The two products, which carry the Super Multi Blue brand, will be available in the U.S. at retailers Best Buy Co. and Circuit City Stores Inc. during the first week of February and could help kick-start the high-definition movie disc market. The first HD-DVD player went on sale in Japan in March, and the first Blu-ray Disc player followed in the U.S. in mid-2006. But sales of both formats have so far been disappointing.

HD-DVD player shipments in 2006 totaled 370,000 units, Paul Castellana, senior director of HD-DVD business development at Toshiba Corp.'s storage device division, said on the sidelines of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here. Toshiba is the major backer of HD-DVD. Comparable figures for Blu-ray Disc, which is currently the more expensive of the two formats, were not available. However, that format got a boost in November when Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. launched its PlayStation 3 game console, which includes a Blu-ray Disc player.

LG developed its player to end confusion caused by the battling formats in the market.

"The growth of this exciting new technology and industry is slower than it could be," said H.G. Lee, president of LG Electronics, during a news conference at CES on Sunday. He said he believes that both standards are here to stay.

The BH100 player will be available in the U.S. in February for around $1,199. That makes it more expensive than Toshiba's two HD-DVD players, which cost $500 and $1,000, and some Blu-ray Disc players. But it is also cheaper than Pioneer Corp.'s high-end $1,500 BDP-HD1 Blu-ray Disc player.

The player supports all interactive features on Blu-ray Discs as well as common DVDs. The player supports "most, but not all" of the features on HD-DVD discs, Lee said. It also will not play CDs.

LG will also launch a dual-format drive, the GGW-H10N for PCs, during the same time frame. The drive will cost under $1,199 and can read and write Blu-ray Disc and read HD-DVD-ROM. It will support CDs and DVDs.

The compatibility in the drive is thanks to a newly developed optical pickup from LG, the company said. The optical pickup contains a laser and lens and is the device responsible for getting data on and off the disc. The two battling formats are technically similar: each uses a blue laser. But while the optics in Blu-ray Disc are unique, those used for HD-DVD are similar to those used on current DVD discs.

Blu-ray Disc is backed by Sony Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (also known by its Panasonic Corporation of North America unit), along with a long list of electronics makers, and achieves a capacity of 25GB on a single-sided disc. HD-DVD's main backer is Toshiba, and the format also has broad support in Hollywood. A single-sided HD-DVD disc can store 15GB of data. In comparison, a DVD stores 4.7GB.

The launch of the dual-format products isn't a total surprise. LG said last year it was considering such a device and last week said it would show a dual-format player at CES. However, the announcement likely came late enough to throw the promotion plans of HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc hardware makers into the air.

The question of whether a dual-format player could push aside single-format players from other companies could come on Monday when CES officially opens its doors. The same question is likely to be asked during scheduled news conferences on HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

Melissa Perenson of PC World contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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