Dual format debut thrills CES visitors despite leak


It was the worst-kept secret at the Consumer Electronics Show.

But even though word leaked out last week that Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group and LG Electronics are planning dual-format software and hardware in an attempt to ease confusion about the next-generation format war, a big news event with Warners' top brass went on as scheduled here Tuesday night.

A parade of top Warners executives talked up the studio's Total High-Definition Disc, which features a movie in the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats. The announcement of the combo disc was accompanied by word from South Korea's LG Electronics that it soon will launch the world's first dual-format, high-definition disc player, capable of playing Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD content.

The Super Multi Blue Player will be available in early February for about $1,200. A dual-format computer drive will be available later in the first quarter for about the same price.

"Everyone agrees next-generation, high-definition media is the future of home entertainment," said Warners chairman and CEO Barry Meyer. Next-generation media, he said, "presents tremendous growth and opportunity."

But because there are two rival, incompatible formats, Meyer added, "the market has experienced consumer confusion and hesitancy — and consumer confusion and hesitancy are never good."

"This problem was in desperate need of a solution, and we believe we have it," he said.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group president Kevin Tsujihara said he believes the dual-format disc will propel the high-def disc market to a significantly higher level of success than it experienced in 2006, when a total of 775,000 players were sold — twice as many as the DVD player tally in Year 1 of that format.

He said 49% of consumers surveyed said they would make the jump to high-def packaged media if a dual-format disc was available. He also said the Total HD Disc will alleviate retailer concerns about having to devote critical shelf space to two high-def formats instead of just one.

"2007 is poised to be the year for high-def media," Tsujihara said.

Ron Sanders, worldwide president of Warner Home Video, said that while the production costs of a dual-format disc will be higher than for a single-format disc, the retail price "won't be materially more." He said the first Total HD Disc titles will be released "in the back end of this year."

New Line Home Entertainment president Steve Einhorn and HBO Video president Henry McGee said their respective divisions will release movies on the new dual-format disc. In response to a reporter's question whether "The Lord of the Rings" would be headed for Total HD Disc release, Einhorn responded, "We're working on it."

Meanwhile, on the CES show floor, the display at the LG booth for the dual-format player was jammed with spectators. In a statement on the Consumer Electronics Manufacturer's Web site, LG president and chief technology officer Hee Gook Lee said his company developed the player "to end the confusion caused by the current competition between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. Customers are no longer forced to choose between the two formats."

At a Blu-ray Disc event Monday, Blu-ray Disc Assn. chief Andy Parsons, in response to a reporter's question, said he felt the move by LG was gratuitous "because in six months, there will be only one format." Parsons also is senior vp at Pioneer Electronics, which this month is bowing a dedicated Blu-ray Disc player of its own.