CES 2006 home video wrap-up
High-def DVD battle takes shape
By David Carnoy
January 9, 2006
Probably the most interesting demo I saw at this year's show was Pioneer's display of two 42-inch plasmas side by side: one showing a DVD, the other a Blu-ray disc. I'm not sure what point the company was trying to make, but it was clear that if you stood about 8 to 10 feet back from the displays--normal viewing distance--it was pretty hard to tell the difference between the two movies. When you got within 3 feet of the screens, you could see that the Blu-ray movie was sharper, but it wasn't a huge leap. Pioneer, of course, is on the Blu-ray bandwagon, and its player won a Best of Show award in the home-video category, but the company rep agreed with my assessment that owning a Blu-ray player really made sense only for those with TVs of 50 inches or larger.
The demo highlighted the uphill battle that both Blu-ray disc (BD) and HD-DVD face in the marketplace. Both formats are scheduled to arrive by the middle of this year, with Toshiba's $499 HD-DVD player
hitting stores first in March and Blu-ray players
showing up "in summer" for most companies--although Samsung and Pioneer announced earlier U.S. shipping dates of April and May, respectively. HD-DVD players will initially be much less expensive (less than half the price of Blu-ray players), but we expect to see some price rejiggering, especially by the Blu-ray camp. For instance, a Samsung rep said that while its upcoming BD player was being listed at $1,200 at the show, he expected it to cost less than $1,000 when it arrived in summer. Other manufacturers, such as Sony and Panasonic, didn't even give pricing for their BD players, which means the situation is pretty fluid.
The big question, of course, is why anybody would bother buying a BD player if it costs more than the PS3, which allegedly will have a built-in BD player. The answer, at least according to a Pioneer rep, is that the PS3 might actually be more expensive than people initially thought it would be. He was suggesting $799, which seems to be on the high side, but it wouldn't shock me to see the PS3 come out at $599--and most non-Sony insiders agree that the earliest we'll see it in the United States is in the Christmas time frame. Some even questioned whether Sony would make good on its May launch date for Japan.
The only good news is that the new HD movies, whether they're in HD-DVD or Blu-ray format, won't cost much more than current DVD titles; they'll allegedly run from $20 to $25. It's worth noting that few are betting on HD-DVD to win the format war, largely because Sony owns several movie studios and will never release movies from those studios in HD-DVD. In my book, you might as well put everything on hold until the PS3 arrives because it's only the high-def disc player that matters this year. Yes, the Pioneer player is sweet, but you're going to need some serious disposable income to own one and not care that it'll cost half the price a year after it comes out.
Personally, I'm more interested in Blu-ray recorders, but they were largely downplayed at the show. Panasonic had one in its booth--it will come out this year, allegedly--but no pricing was given, and just how and what HD programming it would record was still up in the air. DVD recorders and DVRs
As I suggested in my preview, while the main spotlight was on HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the real action was in the evolution of less sexy products such as the HD DVRs sold by cable and satellite providers, which have now switched over to MPEG-4 for their video-compression technology. At its booth, Scientific Atlanta had a steady crowd around its MCP-100
, a Best of CES award-winning HD DVR that has a built-in DVD burner. And Dish trotted out its first MPEG-4 HD DVR, the trituner ViP622
, which is due to be released in February at the discounted price of $299 to new subscribers. Probably the biggest surprise was that TiVo didn't make any significant announcements at the show. Rumors of a Series 3 machine turned out to be just that: rumors
. Also, we expected an announcement about the next generation of CableCard, appropriately dubbed CableCard2, which would pave the way for two-way communications between your CableCard HD tuner and your cable company. But instead, we heard rumors that cable companies want to dump CableCard altogether in favor of a downloadable access system.