The high-definition video fight for consumers' hearts, minds and wallets begins in the US next week.
The first player and content for the Blu-ray Disc high-definition movie disc format will be launched then, about three months after the first hardware and movies for the rival HD DVD format went on sale.
Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD are both new optical disc formats vying to replace current DVDs for high-definition content such as movies. The main backers of Blu-ray Disc include Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) and Samsung Electronics, while companies supporting the rival HD-DVD format include Toshiba, NEC and Intel.
The launch on June 20 of the Samsung BD-P1000 player and eight movies from Sony Pictures Entertainment will signal Blu-ray Disc's entry into the consumer market.
The first eight Blu-ray Disc titles will include The Fifth Element and The Terminator. A ninth film, Ultraviolet, will launch simultaneously with the DVD version June 27. More movies are slated for July releases.
There is technically little difference between the formats as both use the same basic blue-laser technology and the same compression systems, so the picture quality of each will be very close or identical.
For consumers shopping for a high-definition disc player, early title availability will likely be one of the deciding factors for choosing either Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD. Currently the major Hollywood studios are backing one or the other of the two formats so the same movie won't be issued initially in both formats.
Another differentiator will be price. The Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player can be picked up for around $500, while the Samsung player to be launched next week is listed at $1,000 on Amazon.com. Movie discs for both formats cost from around $20.
Some analysts and industry watchers expect the duelling formats to cause many people to delay purchase until it becomes apparent which of the two formats is stronger, in a fight reminiscent of the Betamax versus VHS videotape battle in the 1980s.
Another possibility is a so-called 'Ultra Multi Drive' that can manage both new formats. Several companies are working on such drives and they are likely to appear around the end of this year or sometime in 2007. If that happens then consumers would be able to buy players that handle both formats, negating much of the struggle.Find - or begin - a discussion of this story in Macworld UK's busy Forums.