LAS VEGAS — This year's annual Consumer Electronics Show kicked off with a bang in Las Vegas on Sunday, with the apparent end of the next-generation DVD format war.
Dejected executives of Toshiba Corp., the main backer of the HD DVD format, said they were surprised and disappointed by the announcement last week by Warner Bros. that the studio was going to release its movies only on Blu-ray, the rival format supported mainly by Sony Corp.
Warner has now joined most of the other movie studios in the Blu-ray camp, leaving only Universal and Paramount siding with HD DVD.
'It's difficult for me to read that HD DVD is dead, but we've been declared dead before.' —Jodi Sally, Toshiba VP of digital audio-visual marketing
"This is a tough day for me," Jodi Sally, Toshiba's vice-president of digital audio-visual marketing, told a news conference. "I've had better."
Despite the tide shifting seemingly irrevocably to Blu-ray, Toshiba executives maintained HD DVD was the better format. Still, they did not talk about plans for any new HD DVD players or computer disc drives, despite the fact numerous laptops were displayed on stage.
"It's difficult for me to read that HD DVD is dead, but we've been declared dead before," Sally said.
The company surprised reporters by cutting its news conference to 30 minutes from the scheduled 45, and also by not fielding questions at the end. The company used most of its time to talk about its plans for LCD television, with 20 new models to be made available in the spring. Toshiba also announced it would release new lines in the fall as well.
LG Electronics, which kicked off a day of CES news conferences, announced a new DVD player that supports both HD DVD and Blu-ray. The company said it would watch how the situation plays out over the next few months, but also admitted that Blu-ray appears to have won.
"The balance of power has tipped," said Allen Jason, vice-president of marketing.
LG got the day off to a rollicking start by announcing it plans to import to North America the sort of ubiquitous mobile television found in its native South Korea.
LG said it is now testing MPH — or mobile pedestrian handheld — a chip that receives existing signals from television towers and displays them on handheld devices, including cellphones and laptops.
New service being tested
MPH differs from existing mobile TV services that broadcast over cellular networks, which has proved expensive for broadcasters, cellphone providers and consumers alike.
Woo Pak, LG's chief technology officer, said the service, which is being tested in several U.S. cities and is scheduled for full launch in February 2009, will have "minimal cost impact" for consumers.
He showed off a prototype cellphone with MPH, as well as a car GPS device, which allows the user to watch TV while driving – a fact that elicited a chorus of laughs from the audience.
Pioneer, the plasma TV market leader, also unveiled two new concept models.
The first prototype television features a screen with a screen so black, it is invisible when turned on in a pitch-black room, executives said. The second prototype is a model that is only nine millimetres thick, or thinner than an iPhone or "last month's Wired magazine."
Neither concept model will be available this year, but both are part of Pioneer's effort to resist the commoditization of plasma televisions, or what general manager of display products Ken Shioda called "a race to the bottom."
Shioda said Pioneer wants to continue to differentiate itself from other plasma makers by concentrating on high quality. Plasma, which lost momentum to LCD televisions in 2007, still provides the best picture quality, he said.