CES 2007: Warner announces HD DVD - Blu-ray combo disc

Las Vegas (NV) - While the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps are still at each other's throats, we are seeing the first hybrid high-definition solutions entering the home video market. Earlier this week, LG announced a hybrid HD DVD - Blu-ray player; Warner followed up late Tuesday with a hybrid hi-def disc that can be played both in HD DVD and Blu-ray players.

You could interpret this week's announcements as frustration of the consumer electronics and entertainment industry over Sony's and Toshiba's inability to agree on a common high-definition video standard. There's a lot at stake for many companies both industries, which - given today's size of the home video market of nearly $25 billion per year - may not be able to cope with another Betamax debacle. Rather than waiting for Sony and Toshiba and congratulating one or the other for defeating the other, hybrid HD solutions could surface as the real winner. They are a welcome and refreshing development that could save consumers, the content industry and consumer electronics manufacturers billions of dollars.

"Warner Bros. has a history of embracing and promoting new technologies, from producing the first sound movies to being early pioneers in 1950s television to the creation and proliferation of DVDs," said company chairman and CEO Barry Meyer at a press conference. "We understand the benefits to our business - and to consumers- that technology affords us." But, "while consumers rave about the quality of high definition when they see it," Warner said in a statement, "a confusing format dilemma will result in slower consumer adoption of HD technology." According to Warner, a current problem is that consumers are forced to choose one high-definition format, "not knowing if their favorite titles would be produced in their specific format or how long that specific format would survive."

Warner's "Total Hi Def" disc ("THD") is yet another proprietary format; however, it does combine HD DVD and Blu-ray on one disc. According to Warner Home Video, it does not compromise any Hi-Def features of either HD DVD or Blu-ray. The physical structure of the disc is 1.2 mm the same as DVDs, HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. The Total Hi Def disc has the ability to contain both single layer and dual layers for both formats enabling either 15 GB or 30 GB on the HD DVD side and 25 GB or 50 GB on the Blu-ray side.

Warner does not intend to keep the technology for itself. While Warner said that it has not discussed the THD with other "single-format studios" the firm considers the technology a "natural" next step. "We welcome other studios support and participation in THD," Warner said in a statement. If broadly adopted, Warner believes that the THD would not only accelerate consumer adoption, but "also simplify point of sale issues for retailers by reducing the shelf space required to carry two versions of the same content."

The company said that first THDs would be made available in the second half of 2007. Pricing has not been announced.