Hot on the heels of Toshiba's HD-DVD player announcement, the Blu-ray camp showed off its hardware. The most fully detailed unit is the Pioneer BDP-HD1, available in May for $1,800. The player features 1080i/1080p upconversion and home-networking capabilities, along with the standard Blu-ray features--namely, the ability to play the 50GB discs. It includes analog standard-def outputs, but the Blu-ray group is still discussing whether to allow high-def output over analog (see below). This extremely expensive player stands in stark contrast to the $499 HD-DVD player announced by Toshiba, giving the HD-DVD camp something to brag about, at least for now.
The second-most detailed Blu-ray player announced came courtesy of Samsung. The company's BD-P1000 will likely be the first stand-alone Blu-ray player on the market; Samsung is targeting April availability, pending last-minute resolution of issues with Blu-ray's Java component. At $1,200 list, the unit will cost significantly less than Pioneer's.
As we mentioned, the Blu-ray group has yet to determine whether to allow the players to pass high-definition video via analog component-video outputs in addition to digital HDMI. Hollywood studios are loathe to allow HD via component because they perceive the analog output as a copy-protection loophole that might be exploited by pirates. HD-DVD has already announced that its units would not pass analog HD resolutions, instead downconverting all analog outputs to standard-def. We hope Blu-ray allows HD to pass via component, since it would allow people who own HDTVs that don't have HDMI or DVI/HDCP inputs to enjoy the new format, but we're not optimistic.
Details from other manufacturers were vague. LG also announced a Blu-ray player at its press conference, and its PowerPoint slide also mentioned 1080i/1080p upconversion. To utilize Blu-ray players' 1080p output, a high-definition television needs to have 1080p input capability via HDMI--a rarity in today's HDTVs but something that will become commonplace in 2006 models. LG didn't announce pricing and mentioned an availability time frame of "spring" in the press conference Q&A session, accompanied by a chuckle and an admonishment that a couple of issues still impede Blu-ray's availability.
Sharp also showed a Blu-ray player at its booth. It didn't stipulate pricing, and availability will be the "summer of this year." Philips, for its part, chimed in with a "competitively priced" player, and its spokesperson seemed optimistic that the Blu-ray group would approve the passing of HD resolutions via analog output. Sony didn't have any details on its Blu-ray player aside from a model number (BDP-S1) and availability of "early summer."
Pioneer also announced a PC-based recorder, model BDR-101A, that will be available Q1 2006 (list price: $995). It's primarily targeted for professional use, and unlike the non-PC-based Blu-ray units above, it can actually record. Samsung also had a couple of PC-based recorders in its booth, including a portable USB version. None of the companies we spoke to would speculate on when a non-PC-based recorder would be available, and many cited copy-protection issues as the major stumbling block.