Samsung unveils Blu-ray player
Hollywood set to decide future of next-generation DVD technology

Samsung Electronics Co., the country`s largest electronics maker, unveiled the Blu-ray disc player, heralding a new round of standard battles for the next-generation DVD technology.

The BD-P1000, the world`s first Blu-ray-based media player, will debut in the United States later this month at a retail price of $999. The Korean launch is set for August with a price tag of 1.39 million won.

"The industry appears to be favoring the Blu-ray standard as Hollywood studios plan to produce 80 percent of the next-generation titles in a Blu-ray format," said Bang Mun-su, vice president of digital media business at a news conference in Seoul.

The new product will offer a clue about which side will win the standard showdown over the blue laser DVD technology that promises better picture quality and bigger storage space. The next-generation DVD market is estimated at $6.6 billion in 2010.

Sony Corp. of Japan is leading the Blu-ray camp and plans to launch a host of Blu-ray titles this month in the United States. Toshiba of Japan, the front-runner in the competing format called HD-DVD, already launched two players, HD-A1 and HD-XA1, on the U.S. market in mid-April.

Samsung officials said the trend is moving toward Blu-ray format as Hollywood studios, the key player in the DVD movie title business worldwide, favors the format over HD-DVD.

According to the market outlook provided by Samsung, Sony Pictures, a movie studio arm of Sony, and other major production houses will roll out up to 165 Blu-ray titles by the end of this year, while the figure for HD-DVD, led by Universal Pictures, will be about 89.

Samsung`s BD-P1000 is the first of a group of high-volume disc players that are set to hit the market with the capacity to hold over five times more information than conventional DVD discs - a format that is large enough to store full-length high-definition feature movies.

Samsung said the player has a backward compatibility, which means consumers can play all the existing DVD titles on the new machine. Other features include a resolution of up to 1080p, MP3 playback and other cutting-edge solutions.

Korea is one of the countries that has launched high-definition television services, and the demand for other HD content such as movies other than regular HD programs by major broadcasting stations is growing fast in recent months. But the questions remain as to whether consumers both at home and abroad will readily embrace the new format, whose players and titles are pricey - at least for now.

To kick-start the next-generation player, Samsung has joined forces with Sony Pictures, LionsGate and large U.S. retailers like BestBuy. Citing the data by TSR, a market researcher, Samsung said the Blu-ray player market will climb to 300,000 units this year and 2.9 million units in 2007. The estimated market for 2010 is 38.4 million units worldwide.

But Samsung`s Bang said the actual sales are hard to predict at this point due to the dearth of Blu-ray software titles.

The new model was originally planned to debut in late May in the United States, but the schedule was delayed because of the licensing and title launch issues.

The Blu-ray camp stresses that the format has more solid security mechanisms, reflecting the concerns of Hollywood studios and other production houses battling the widespread software piracy.

Samsung also bets Sony`s new console game player PlayStation 3, to be launched in November this year, will help spread the new format. PS3 comes with its own Blu-ray disc player that analysts said will offer a momentum to the sales of Blu-ray movie titles.

The regional code system of Blu-ray titles is different from today`s DVD titles. Code A will cover Korea, Japan and the United States, while code B is for Europe and code C is for China and other Asian markets. By putting together Korea, Japan and the U.S. markets, direct sales and distribution of American Blu-ray titles will be possible, a development that is feared to hurt local DVD distributors.

Conventional DVD players provide a resolution of 720x480, the so-called standard definition, or SD. But Blu-ray and HD-DVD format discs provide a far better quality of 1920x1080. The storage of SD-class discs hold just 4.7GB data, but Blu-ray discs are capable of storing 25GB - a volume that can save and play HD video data of about two hours.

The showdown in the standard game seemed to favor Sony and 12 manufacturers like Samsung and Sharp, which form a coalition with Paramount, Sony Pictures and Disney. But it is now difficult to call a winner yet because software giant Microsoft Corp. and the world`s biggest chipmaker Intel Corp. have sided with HD-DVD camp. Toshiba expects HD-DVD titles and players to spread widely in 2008 when China hosts the Olympics in Beijing.

If the confrontation between the two sides drags on for years like the VHS-Betamax standards showdown at the dawn of the VCR era, it seems likely that consumers will suffer the most. The compatibility problems are likely to push more consumers to purchase two different hardware and software titles for watching HD movies.


By Yang Sung-jin