The High-Definition DVD Dance

The Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player is due in May at a price of $1,800

In a briefing delivered to a packed house on Thursday evening, the Blu-ray Disc Association enlisted Hollywood director Barry Sonennfeld, singer John Legend, Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Kaz Hirai, and PC entrepreneur Michael Dell to sing the praises of the forthcoming Blu-Ray high-definition disc format. Clearly, the message was that Blu-ray is an all-around super format that embraces movies, music, gaming, and PC applications.

No new hardware news came out of the briefing, but the BDA did drop an impressive list of titles scheduled to accompany the Blu-ray launch. Participating studios include Buena Vista, Lions Gate, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox. Among the titles are Kill Bill: Vol. 1, T2: Judgment Day, the Mission Impossible series, House of Flying Daggers, and The Fantastic Four.

Judging from that list, there'll be good stuff to watch on the new Blu-ray players when they finally arrive. But Blu-ray gear news at CES has so far been maddeningly slim. Not even a word about the arrival of the Sony's Blu-ray-friendly Playstation 3. Here's what we do know: Samsung plans to be first to market, delivering its BD-P1000 ($1,000) in April. That model will be joined in May by Pioneer's Elite BDP-HD1, a high-end model that offers a full 1080p output via its HDMI jack plus 1080p upconversion for standard DVDs (Samsung's model is limited to 1080i or 720p output). But other manufacturers have projected summer or beyond for their Blu-ray players and have declined to provide any specific model numbers or prices.

Such a sluggish start for Blu-ray - a format that we were told at last CES would be locked, loaded, and ready by late 2005 - gives HD DVD a wider opening to establish a beachhead among early adopters. After watching numerous demos of both formats, I've seen nothing that indicates Blu-ray has any quality advantage over HD DVD. (Several of the Blu-ray demos I've seen were marred by blocky picture artifacts in scenes with quick motion.) And as for HD DVD's iHD interactivity versus Blu-ray's BD Java, the two systems deliver nearly identical features. It's going to be an interesting format war. I just wish it would get over and done with so the world can move forward with a single next-generation high-def disc format.

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