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The CES 2006 Story: Silicon Valley and Hollywood on a Date

The birth of the HD disc and the 102" plasma TV: Don't get excited just yet

Yes, we are super excited about the HD age, just like so many product managers we met at CES. Stunning images on even more stunning displays. It's literally a bright future that is knocking on our doors. At least on doors of those who are willing to shell out well more than $10,000 for that new home theater.

First things first. The expected battle between the HD DVD and Blu-ray camp did not happen. At least in public, supporters for both technologies played nice and exchanged gentle jabs at each other once in a while during press conferences. Plenty of Blu-ray and HD-DVD players were showcased at CES providing an indication that a market introduction of early to late spring is a realistic target and consumers who always want to own the latest and greatest should begin watching pages of etailers. Design is always a matter of taste, but just like the first generation of DVD players, these new marvels of technology are everything else than elegant and in some cases plain ugly.

One of Samsung's many Blu-ray players on display

Blu-ray players don't have to be pretty

As a surprise came the pricing strategy for the new blue-laser technology. Pioneer announced on the day before CES opened its door that its first Blu-ray player will cost a stunning $1800, well above the $500 price target that generally had been expected. During the show we learned that Pioneer intends to add some bells and whistles to the player - such as extra support - to justify the premium price. Other manufacturers - who asked us not to reveal their names - indicated that Blu-ray players may cost around $1000 for standard models and can approach $2000, if equipped with hardware to enable interactive features such as playable Java games. The first generation of players will not come with networking capability - Wi-Fi is completely out of the question, as manufacturers fear that data transmissions could be accessed illegally. Oh, and those first-gen devices will be just players, there will not be any recording capability included.

Toshiba's first HD DVD player

At least as far as price is concerned, HD DVD will launch with an advantage. Toshiba said that its first HD DVD player will cost $500. Most manufacturers of Blu-ray players replied that they would price their products "competitively," but declined to mention if that competition refers to Blu-ray and HD DVD devices or just to other Blu-ray manufacturers.

Playing content, of course, is just one side of the story, visualizing it and making it sound great another. If only the best will do, plan on shelling out at least $5000 for that 1080p plasma TV and at least another $1500 for a high def surround sound system to go with it. A decent 50" plasma display with a HD audio surround system can easily top $15,000.