The on-again, off-again story of advanced optical-disc recording will keep consumers on tenterhooks yet again this autumn, with manufacturers in the Blu-ray camp still not ready to introduce their movie-players to the huge European market.
Pioneer, one of the stalwarts of the Blu-ray camp, admitted this week it would not be ready to launch the players by the time of the Sept. 1 to Sept. 6 trade fair IFA in Berlin, the principal European consumer electronics show.
Toshiba, leader of the camp that makes the rival standard, the HD-DVD, insists it will be ready to roll in Europe when the Berlin show opens. Both camps have had a rocky beginning in Japan and the US.
At a briefing in Germany, Pioneer said it still had no "concrete" plans for a European launch, but believed the January 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Blu-ray makers hope to offer movie-players in bulk, would "lay the ground" for a Europe launch.
Blu-ray is a disc format that uses the light of blue lasers to read tiny pits in the surface of a disc. CD-ROMs, which are only used today for music, were conceived to hold 0.7 gigabytes of data, DVDs for 4.7 gigabytes per layer and Blu-ray discs for 25 gigabytes.
HD-DVD discs, made to the rival specifications of Toshiba and allies, can only cram 15 gigabytes on a single layer, but are easier to manufacture, and what is more important, have reached the market quicker.
Toshiba says it will release a HD-DVD player for European shoppers in a Toshiba-designed case at IFA, but cannot yet disclose what components will be inside, or what the box will cost.
That information is only likely to be finalized on Sept. 1, the German arm of the Japanese consumer electronics group said in the port city of Hamburg this week.
US consumers say it is has been difficult to obtain Toshiba players. This has led to allegations that Toshiba may be making a loss on US sales of the devices priced at US$499 and US$799.
While both HD-DVD and Blu-ray devices are already available for data storage on computers, the discs' main use will be for selling pre-recorded movies in superb, high-definition quality that will make existing DVD films look grainy by comparison.
It might need 50 gigabytes to store a full-length feature film at top quality. To do so will require triple-layer, 45-gigabyte HD-DVD discs. Blu-ray promises with two layers and a capacity of 50 gigabytes.
Sold on the next-generation discs, console games will have stunning graphics and will fit onto a single disc. But consumers will find it exasperating to have to choose between two incompatible standards in the shops.
Most of the hold-up has been blamed on special software to prevent illegal copying of movies.
A German computer magazine reported that the software still does not completely prevent copying. CT said it tested both HD-DVD and Blu-ray devices with software that takes a snapshot of every single picture of a movie and then recombines these into a new film.
CT said the conversion software, which reintegrates the audio as well, worked on Windows XP systems. It said it tested a Sony personal computer with a Blu-ray drive and a Toshiba notebook with a HD-DVD drive. Both makers say updated software will soon prevent this.
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