Warner Bros. To Unveil Dual-Format DVD For Hi-Def Content At CES - InformationWeek

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Warner Bros. To Unveil Dual-Format DVD For Hi-Def Content At CES

Called Total Hi-Def, the disc would make it possible to play a movie in either a HD DVD player or a Blu-ray player.

Warner Bros. says it plans next week to unveil at the Consumer Electronics Show a DVD disc that plays competing formats for high-definition content, potentially making the buying of HD movies less daunting for consumers.

Nevertheless, major Hollywood studios that have sided with either HD DVD or Blu-ray are unlikely to support the dual-format disk, at least in the short term, so the technology is not expected to have an immediate impact, one expert says.

Warner on Friday confirmed that Barry Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros. Entertainment, would unveil the disc on Tuesday at the Las Vegas, Nev., trade show. Called Total Hi-Def, the disc would make it possible to play a movie in either a HD DVD player or a Blu-ray player.

Warner and Paramount Pictures are the only two major studios that are releasing movies in both formats. Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Pictures, and creator Sony are exclusively releasing DVDs in Blu-ray, while Universal Studios is distributing only in HD DVD. Among player manufacturers, Sony, Hitachi and Philips favor Blu-ray, while Toshiba and NEC support HD DVD.

Experts say the format battle, reminiscent of the VHS-Betamax battle that ushered in the VCR era, has made consumers wary of opening their wallets for high-definition players, knowing that the machine they buy won't be able to play all available movies.

Sam Bhavnani, analyst for Current Analysis, said it's unlikely Warner's new disc would have much impact on the market, at least in the short term. "It's great [to have the disc], but it doesn't mean that everyone is going to be coming out with them," he said.

If only Warner is releasing movies on the disc, then consumers still won't be able to watch a lot of other movies on their players. So, Bhavnani believes the dual-format player that LG Electronics plans to launch next week at CES is a better option for consumers, even if they have to pay more for the device. "It protects you if one of the [competing[ formats loses," he said.

Despite the heavy marketing, hi-def devices remain at the early adoption stage. While flat-screen TVs capable of showing programming in crystal-clear resolutions flew off the shelves last year, few people are actually watching much high-definition content

The reasons are a lack of programming from cable and satellite TV providers, an unwillingness on the part of consumers to pay more for hi-def-compatible set-top boxes and digital video recorders, and, of course, the ongoing format war. Therefore, the market is expected to remain in the early adopter stage this year, Bhavnani said.

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