There’s no mistaking it: The battle for dominance between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc is now finally down to the consumers.
In the past month, we’ve had three PCs announced with drives for the new formats and one manufacturer planning to sell a stand-alone drive.
With each new announcement comes more information about the formats and how we might use them. For example, at Panasonic’s launch of an external Blu-ray Disc drive, a representative of software maker CyberLink revealed that getting high-definition movies on your PC might be more difficult than just installing the drive.
There’s no playback software available at present, and it will require a pretty powerful computer for the high-bandwidth video stream. In the case of MPEG2-encoded content, users will need a Pentium 4-based machine running at 3GHz or more. For movies encoded in MPEG4AVC, they’ll require a more powerful Pentium D system running at 3.2GHz or more. The good news is that using Blu-ray Disc for data backup can be done on a Pentium 3-based machine.
Sony, Fujitsu Blu-ray desktops
For early adopters, Fujitsu’s FMV-Deskpower TX95S/D desktop will pack a Blu-ray Disc reader/writer compatible with prerecorded movie discs and recordable and rewritable data discs of 25GB or 50GB capacity and hit Japan in late June. The machine combines a 37-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) panel monitor with a computer in a single case, so it looks more like a flat-panel TV than a PC. It includes niceties such as a digital TV tuner and will carry a premium price tag of about 600,000 yen (US$5,064). The Sony Vaio RC300 is also on its way, but there is no launch or pricing information available yet. The Fujitsu machine will be available in Japan only, while the Sony PC will go on sale overseas.
In the portable space, Fujitsu will launch a laptop with an HD DVD-ROM drive in June. The FMV Biblo NX95S/D laptop has a 17-inch widescreen XGA+ (1,400 by 900 pixels), which is slightly less than full 1080 high-definition available from HD-DVD. There’s a video output socket on the laptop, but that’s limited to standard definition, so there is no way of watching content at full HD quality. It will cost about 400,000 yen, and there are no plans to sell it overseas. Toshiba has already announced an HD-DVD laptop, complete with HD video output, mentioned in this column last month.
If you don’t want to replace your PC but want the extra storage capacity offered by Blu-ray Disc, then Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic) has a stand-alone drive on its way. It’s a half-height model and will fit into a standard bay on a desktop. A single Blu-ray Disc offers a capacity equivalent to about 10 DVDs, so it’s obviously attractive for data backup. However, the first-generation drive isn’t cheap, at about 100,000 yen (US$850). It will be available in Japan in June, and Panasonic has yet to decide on international launch plans.
Sony’s new D-VE7000S DVD Walkman offers a design twist on run-of-the-mill portable DVD players. Rather than the clamshell design that most players follow, Sony’s new machine is a single slab with a 7-inch widescreen LCD monitor mounted on the outside of the case. Twin headphone jacks mean you can share a movie with someone else, and a video input connector means you can use it as a portable display for a device like a gaming machine. When you’re not on the move, there’s a companion dock that includes speakers so you can watch DVDs without needing headphones. The dock also charges the DVD Walkman. It will be available in Japan and the United States in June, and costs 35,000 yen in Japan and US$299 in the United States.
At the CeBIT electronics show in Germany earlier this year, Samsung Electronics’ Q1 was the center of a lot of attention. The reason? It’s the first of a new kind of device, dubbed the ultra-mobile PC, based on new technology from Intel and Microsoft. The machine looks like a cut-down tablet PC and runs a tablet version of Windows XP. An innovative on-screen keyboard enables users to type on the move, and it is certainly easier to use while standing than a laptop computer. But its battery life—about three hours—is no advance on current laptops. It’s also fairly expensive. Samsung has put it on sale in the United States for US$1,099. It’s also on sale in South Korea for 1,199,000 won ($1,264).
Almost every PC maker in Japan has rolled out at least one living room PC over the past couple of years. These devices marry a Windows PC with TV tuner and multimedia software with a large LCD monitor and are primarily aimed at people who live in small apartments where there isn’t much room for a PC and television. They’ve been fairly successful, and now Sharp is trying the opposite with a TV that seeks to add Internet and PC functions. The Internet Aquos TVs have either a 32-inch or 37-inch display and come with a PC, keyboard and remote. The PC can record video and comes with either a 250GB or 500GB hard-disk drive. You can access the Internet by pressing a button on the remote and browse broadband streaming services. The TVs go on sale in late May in Japan only and will cost between 350,000 yen and 550,000 yen.
Mac users are soon to get a software player for Sony’s LocationFree TV system. Sony and Tokyo-based Kaga Electronics inked a licensing agreement that should see the software available soon, Kaga said. LocationFree is a Sony-developed technology platform that streams a live video signal from a base station to a hardware or software client. Users often employ the device to watch satellite or cable television broadcasts via their mobile device when away from home. Through the system, users are able to access and watch their living room video devices as long as there is a broadband connection between the base station and client. Until now, clients for Windows XP and the PlayStation Portable have been available, but the new deal will extend this to Apple Computer’s Mac. Earlier this year, Sony licensed the technology to Japan’s Access with a view to development of players for cell phones and PDAs.