Samsung playing it both ways

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In what HD DVD supporters say is a clear sign that the high-definition disc format war is far from over, Samsung Electronics, which last year introduced the first Blu-ray Disc player, says it will support the rival HD DVD format as well.

The Korean consumer electronics manufacturer said Friday that it is developing a dual-format player that will play Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD software. The Duo HD player, expected in time for the holidays, also will support both next-generation formats' interactive technologies, HDi and BD-Java.

LG Electronics also has a dual-format player on the market, and Warner Home Video this year plans to introduce a "Total HD" disc with Blu-ray content on one side and HD DVD content on the other.

Dongsoo Jun, executive vp of the Digital AV Division at Samsung Electronics, said his company also "is flexible to market a stand-alone HD DVD player whenever consumers demand it."

"Our main concern is not technology but consumer choice," he said. "Consumers are hungry for more HD content but are currently confused about competing formats. Samsung's Duo HD player will allow consumers access to every HD movie title available regardless of the authoring format. Samsung is committed to making life simpler through technology and will market next-generation DVD products that will satisfy the consumer and market requirement."

The announcement was hailed by Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment and a key Hollywood supporter of the HD DVD format. The fact that Samsung, which for so long has been an exclusive Blu-ray supporter, is going the dual-format route "is an acknowledgment of the tremendous value that HD DVD brings to the early adopter of high-definition-packaged media," he said.

Added Ron Sanders, president of Warner Home Video, one of just two studios supporting both HD DVD and Blu-ray: "We welcome Samsung's Duo HD player as another solution in the marketplace that will help reduce consumer confusion and buyer hesitancy toward HD media. This is an innovative product that can move us closer to mainstream consumer adoption of HD technologies."

The Samsung announcement comes at a time when Blu-ray software continues to outsell HD DVD software. HD DVD is supported by three major studios — Universal, Warner and Paramount — but Warner and Paramount also support Blu-ray. 20th Century Fox, Buena Vista and Sony Pictures are exclusively in the Blu-ray camp, as is minimajor Lionsgate.

On the consumer electronics front, Blu-ray also enjoys the advantage, with set-top players on the market from Samsung, Sony, Phillips and Panasonic. Only Toshiba manufactures dedicated HD DVD players. Sony's PlayStation 3 video game console comes with a built-in Blu-ray drive, while Microsoft's Xbox 360 has an HD DVD drive as an add-on for $199.

Kornblau and other HD DVD supporters, however, believe the imminent entry into the open-platform HD DVD market of low-priced players from Chinese consumer electronics manufacturers will ultimately tip the scale in favor of that format.

"Look what affordable players did for DVD," Kornblau said. "DVD didn't really go mass market until the Chinese came in."

Kornblau noted that big retailers last weekend already were running ads in their circulars, pitching the entry-level Toshiba HD-DVD player at its new low price of $399. He expects the discounting trend "to intensify as we approach this holiday season."

Also Friday, Samsung reported that its net profit fell for a second consecutive quarter amid declining prices for its mainstay computer chips. Samsung, the world's largest memory chipmaker, said it earned 1.6 trillion won ($1.72 billion) in the first quarter, down 15% from the same period last year. Sales for the three months ending March 31 rose 3.1% to 14.39 trillion won ($15.47 billion).
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