CES 2007 - Wilder and Crazier Than Ever Page 2

In the same way that teenage boys love to play chicken with their hot rods, the CE industry loves format wars. Blu-ray versus HD DVD is the latest example. With Sony claiming to have shipped 1 million PS3s (with Blu-ray drives), the Blu-ray camp is proclaiming that its victory is inevitable. On the other side, Microsoft's Xbox can accept an outboard HD DVD drive, and Microsoft's clout is clearly considerable. Further, the HD DVD side has unveiled a hybrid disc with both DVD and HD DVD layers, which makes it easy for studios to release one disc for both formats. And, not to be outdone by BD's 50-GB capacity, the HD DVD folks have announced a new disc that holds 51 GB.

Sometimes, a CES is notable by what is not there. Observers expected to see dual-format Blu-ray/HD DVD players from both Pioneer and LG, but only LG officially announced one. Selling for $1,199, and dubbed a "Super Multi Blue" player, it's essentially a Blu-ray player that can also play HD DVD discs. But it cannot fully navigate the on-disc HD DVD menus, and oddly, it cannot play CDs. When asked about the latter, LG said that they didn't think that CD playback was important to consumers. Say what? Although interesting, its limitations make the Super Multi Blue player the Hit-of-the-Show-That-Might-Have-Been.

Other companies are showing second-generation Blu-ray and HD DVD players, but despite the steps forward, there are some steps back. RCA, for example, after offering a HD DVD player last year, decided not to offer one this year. Instead, it will wait and see how the war proceeds. Actually, the war may be decided by drives rather than players. Whoever sells the most PC-mounted drives, and recordable BD or HD discs, will ultimately win. Hollywood studios who previously pledged eternal, undying loyalty to one format or another will switch to the perceived-to-be-winning format faster than data can shoot out a port.

Speaking of Hollywood, major studios are cautiously but steadily testing the waters of high-definition movie downloads. Microsoft's Xbox Live service started in November, joining the already established MovieLink and CinemaNow services. MovieBeam sells hi-def downloads of Disney films; movies are delivered overnight to set-top boxes via over-the-air datacasting from PBS stations. Even the notorious BitTorrent plans to provide hi-def downloads when it opens a store later in 2007. Long download times are still a major issue, but as downloads ramp up, the clock is ticking for both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs.

Random observation: No CES is complete without tons of lame celebrity endorsements. This year, one company proudly displayed a video of Eva Longoria, ostensibly on the set of Desperate Housewives, who enthusiastically endorsed the company's TVs, noting that she has one in every room of her mansion. What a lucky coincidence.