While Blu-ray has yet to ship, ABI Research has already declared HD DVD the winner of the first round in the High Definition DVD format fight.
Toshiba's HD DVD player started shipping to US retailers this week, four months ahead of Sony's scheduled release of its Blu-ray format players. North America represents by far the most important market for the new high-definition formats, accounting for more than 60% of all HDTVs that ABI Research expects will be shipped during 2006.

What does this mean for the prospects of the rival formats? Will HD DVD's earlier entry to the market and substantially lower price tag give it the edge over Blu-ray? The answer is "yes" in the short term, but as time passes, complicating factors may shift the balance.
Studies like this make me laugh. It really isn't too hard to declare a winner when the competition hasn't even started to ship their products yet. Anyway, if you'd like to read more, ABI Research's entire press release can be found here. Add a comment
The Taipei Times has an interesting article on HD DVD's digital rights management system, AACS. According to the article, critics of this system are concerned that it has given the entertainment industry too much control over how consumers can use both software and hardware.
AACS uses industrial-strength encryption technology and an elaborate key-based system for authenticating hardware and software.

These keys can be modified at any time, so that if unlicensed players or drives come on to the market, updated keys can be added to new video releases. The new keys could restrict playback to older title releases or even disable a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player by modifying its firmware. But Michael Ayers, a spokesman for AACS LA, says such steps would not be taken lightly: "It couldn't be done unilaterally by one party."

But as Seth Schoen, staff technologist of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www. eff.org), points out, this system won't help reduce piracy: "The key management system is aimed at preventing people from making unauthorized players, not from making unauthorized copies, and it probably won't prevent file sharing either."
While most CDRLabs readers are probably well aware of these issues, the article is still a good read. If you'd like to check it out, the entire article can be found here. Add a comment
Atmel has announced the availability of its new ATR0885 laser diode driver IC for use in HD-DVD and Blu-ray players. Here's part of their press release:
Atmel Corporation (Nasdaq: ATML - News), a global leader in the development and fabrication of advanced semiconductor solutions, announced today the availability of its new ATR0885 laser diode driver IC for use in combined HD-DVD/Blu-ray, DVD, CD players and PC CD-ROM drives. HD-DVD and Blu-ray are new disc standards, which will offer significantly more storage capacity than today's DVD standards. Since the new ATR0885 is available in very small packages, it is particularly suitable for small SLIM drives used in notebook computers, as well as for half-height drives used in desktop PCs and consumer DVD players. The ATR0885 is the industry's first available product for such applications and enables outstanding cost-effectiveness, an important factor for high-volume consumer products.
Hopefully this will help lower the cost of HD DVD and Blu-ray players some. If you'd like to read more, Atmel's entire press release can be found here. Add a comment
In order to complete compatibility testing, Samsung has announced that they've pushed back the launch of their first Blu-ray player, the BD-P1000, until June 25th.
In breaking news out of Japan today (April 3, 2006), Samsung is rescheduling its initial U.S. Blu-Ray player launch from May 23 to June 25 in order to complete compatibility testing with several Blu-Ray test discs that will become available in late April from product manufacturers and content providers.

According to the company, the hardware development for Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-Ray player is complete and ready for mass production in Suwon, South Korea once these compatibility tests are passed. The company still anticipates that the Samsung BD-P1000 will be the first Blu-Ray player to launch at a national level in the United States.
On a positive note, Samsung has added a few new features to their new player. The BD-P1000 will now provide native 1080p output via HDMI for Blu-ray titles mastered in 1920 x 1080 resolution and can upconvert standard DVD's to 1080p. The company has also upgraded the memory card interface by adding support for Mini-SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo formats. If you'd like to read more, head on over to EETimes. Add a comment
The research group In-Stat has released their latest DVD market study. According to their findings, the DVD market will continue to grow in 2006 and that you'll be paying a premium for players based on "blue laser" technology.
DVD player and recorder units will have a combined market of 176.6 million units sold worldwide in 2010, up from 140.8 million units in 2005, reports In-Stat (http://www.in-stat.com). The forecast for 2006 predicts that Europe will be the strongest region for DVD players and recorders with a combined total of 38.4 million units sold, the high-tech market research firm says.

"The DVD player market benefits from versatility in form factors. DVD players can be seen in portable renditions, or integrated with VCRs, or in the back panel seats of SUVs. While DVD recorders have come down in price, there is still delineation in the pricing of DVD players and DVD recorders- each represents a different value proposition," says Chris Kissel, In-Stat analyst. "The future of this market though is all about high definition DVD players based on 'blue laser' technology; however, the future may be farther off than we would like. These players will enter the market at premium prices, and as there has been no compromise between the HD-DVD camp and the companies that sponsor Blu ray technology, a format battle seems inevitable. There will be some casualties, companies and consumers alike."
While there's a lot more to this study, I can't say that I'm surprised by any of the information in this press release. If you'd like to read more, In-Stat's entire press release can be found here. Add a comment
While delayed until mid-April in the US, Toshiba has announced that they've started shipping their new HD DVD player, the HD-XA1, to the Japanese market.

Toshiba Corporation today took the home video experience to the next, high definition level, as it started the Japanese roll out of the world's first commercially available HD DVD player. The new player, HD-XA1, delivers high definition images and crystal clear sound, bringing home entertainment to a new level.

Toshiba's HD-XA1 is the first player to support the HD DVD format approved by the DVD Forum, the international association that defines and promotes DVD standards. HD-XA1 supports playback of pre-recorded HD DVD, offering consumers stunning digital high-definition picture quality far surpassing that of standard DVD. Sound is also enhanced. Along with L-PCM 5.1ch audio, HD-XA1 supports the clarity and realism of three next generation surround-sound formats, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, and sound sources can be output to audio systems via the player's HDMI output or multi-channel audio output. Support for up-conversion of standard DVD to a resolution of 1080i or 720p through HDCP capable HDMI output allows consumers to enjoy current DVD libraries with output resolution scaled to their HDTV or HD displays.
Until April 27, HD-AX1 will come bundled with two complimentary HD DVD titles: "Resident Evil" and a Japanese film, "Moonlight Jellyfish". More information can be found here. Add a comment
Panasonic has announced that they will be shipping their first Blu-ray Disc player, the DMP-BD10, in September. Here's part of their press release:
Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company today announced the upcoming availability of the company's first Blu-ray Disc player, the DMP-BD10, available this September.

Blu-ray Disc is the next generation optical disc format that features capacity as large as 50 gigabytes on a dual-layer disc and will be capable of holding high-definition movies, tens of thousands of songs, and extensive capacity for extraordinary video games and PC storage. Blu-ray Disc has the support of more than 170 leading companies including the top studios and consumer electronics manufacturers.

"With the DMP-BD10, Panasonic proves its commitment to providing the best high definition entertainment experience for the home," said Reid Sullivan, vice president, merchandising, Panasonic's entertainment group. "Our goal is to focus on the total solution for an uncompromised high definition experience. In addition we want to ensure that the consumer experience is as easy as possible, so we've added EZ-Sync HDAVI control function to make it simple to connect and control multiple products, such as a Panasonic Plasma TV, Blu-ray Disc player and receiver. Plus, with the BD10 we respect the legacy content that consumers have in their entertainment libraries, including virtually all DVD and CD formats, as well as video and image formats."
Pricing has not been finalized yet. However, Panasonic expects the DMP-BD10 to go for less than $1500. If you'd like to read more, the entire press release can be found here. Add a comment
Here's some good news for prospective PlayStation 3 owners. At GDC 2006, Sony revealed that their new console will be region free, at least for games.
In a QA session following the platform keynote address at GDC 2006 this morning, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison confirmed what was heavily demanded for import gamers all over the world and yet previously thought unthinkable for a major corporation: the PS3 will be region-free for gaming.
This is definitely good news, especially for those that like to import games from Japan. If you'd like to read more, the entire article can be found here. Add a comment
According to an article at Reuters, Toshiba has pushed the launch of their HD DVD players back until April. While they have not set a specific date, Toshiba is expected to release their players on April 18th, the same day the first HD DVD titles are available.
The launch of HD-DVD took another hit Wednesday with Toshiba announcing it is holding off on shipping next-generation players until April, a month behind schedule.

Last week, Warner Home Video, the only studio that had set firm release dates for high-definition DVD software, said it wouldn't release its first three titles until April 18, three weeks behind schedule, because of technical issues.

On Wednesday, Toshiba said its players, which had been slated to go on sale in large consumer electronics retailers like Best Buy late this month, won't be made available for purchase until the software arrives in stores.
This delay is a smart move on Toshiba's behalf. Without any titles, there's really no reason to buy one of their HD DVD players. If you'd like to read more, the entire article can be found here. Add a comment
While the AACS interim licensing agreement has allowed the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps to release their products on time, initial players will ship without support for managed copy.
To accommodate Toshiba and other companies that wanted to start shipping their high-def products, the AACS Licensing Association came up with a somewhat bizarre solution: It released an interim spec that enables Hollywood studios to securely encode and distribute their content and supports playback of that content on players. But the interim version of AACS has limitations, most conspicuously the lack of support for managed copy. "Managed copy" is industry jargon for the technology that lets content providers offer legal free or fee-based ways for you to move content around on a home server, make a physical copy of content for backup purposes, or transfer it to another device such as a portable media player.

"A player that's licensed under the interim agreement will not be able to do managed copy," states Richard Doherty, spokesperson for the AACS Licensing Association. Although Doherty declined to go into detail about the outstanding issues, he did say that they concern how managed copy will be implemented (and what it will, and will not, allow), and not the actual technology. Technologically speaking, the spec is done, which means it is plausible that "a manufacturer can implement managed copy [but not turn it on], and then enable it in any number of ways down the road," says Doherty.
Let's hope that these initial players can be upgraded to support the final AACS specifications. If you'd like to read more, the entire article can be found here. Add a comment