IFA - Battle over high-def formats comes to Berlin

Visitors to the IFA consumer electronics show iin Berlin will have ring-side seats to the movie-disc war raging between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD.

Visitors to the IFA consumer electronics show, which opens Friday in Berlin, will have ringside seats to the war over high-definition disc formats raging between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD.

As the two formats duel for the title of successor to current DVD movie discs, many European consumers haven't decided which kind of player they will buy.

"Everyone is waiting for IFA where many new products are expected to be announced," said Frank Simonis, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association.

Both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc have sold in lower quantities in Europe than in other regions and prices are still relatively high, between Euro 599 (AU$1000 ) and Euro 899 (AU$1500 ), according to Simonis.

Currently, five manufacturers have launched Blu-ray Disc players in Europe, including Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic). Five additional vendors are expected to launch Blu-ray Disc players at IFA, while companies with players already in the market plan to introduce devices with new features, Simonis said.

Many of the manufacturers are major suppliers of HDTV sets and hope to leverage that expertise to "accelerate the adoption of Blu-ray Disc," he said.

The format has received a big boost from its use in Sony's PlayStation 3 games console, with sales of more than 1.4 million units in Europe, according to Simonis.

The HD DVD camp is also bringing new wares to IFA, according to Frank Eschholz, business development manager of HD DVD products at Sony Deutschland. "There will be new devices and new features and more."

Both types of players are designed with many of the same components inside and offer many of the same features, according to Simonis. But one of Blu-ray Disc's key benefits is its ability to store up to 50G bytes of data, he said. "Studios want to pack a bunch of extras onto discs in addition to the movies, and Blu-ray Disc allows them to do so," he said.

The Blu-ray Disc camp, however, was jolted when Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation announced last week that they would align themselves exclusively with the HD DVD high-definition format. The decision comes at a time when market indicators have been pointing to competitor Blu-ray Disc as having the lead.

In addition to next-generation movie-disc players, visitors to this year's IFA can expect to see plenty of HDTV sets, camcorders, digital cameras, MP3 players and notebook computers.

Samsung Electronics Co. will introduce new products in all those categories, according to a spokeswoman. The company may launch two handsets as well, she said.

Sony has decided to return to IFA after its absence last year, with plans to exhibit new Blu-ray Disc players, new Walkman music players and HDTV sets, according to a spokeswoman.

More information about IFA -- the letters stand for Internationale Funkausstellung, although the full name is rarely used these days -- is available at the show's Web site.

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John Blau

IDG News Service

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