While the HD format war rages on, some companies are finding innovative and compelling product offerings. Unveiled at the 2007 International CES, the LG “Super Multi Blue” Player (model BH100) is the world’s first dual-format high-definition DVD player, which plays back both Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs. It is now available at national retail stores, such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and CompUSA, as well as regional retailers, local dealers, and online. At CES 2007, LG confided that their Super Multi Blue BH100 was an outgrowth of their originally announced stand-alone Blu-ray Disc player last year. From the outset, there has been controversy regarding the BH100.
With LG Electronics’ Super Multi Blue Player, consumers now have the convenience and flexibility of playing both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD high-definition content. The unit blends both technologies for a consumer-focused solution to the challenges and consumer confusion of the current HD disc format war. The LG BH100 is the first and only player on the market with the capability to play both next-generation disc formats, meaning that consumers no longer have to choose between the two formats.
Features and Design
In addition to offering full HD 1080p picture quality from high-definition discs, the BH100 incorporates interactive functions based on BD-Java, which allows advanced menus and functions to be displayed over the video of Blu-ray Discs. Although the same level of advanced menu interactivity is not available while playing HD DVD discs, the powerful combination of Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD audio-video playback technologies is like no other on the market. For consumers’ existing DVD libraries, the player upconverts standard DVDs to 1080i resolution, which provides compatibility with consumers’ movies while improving the picture quality of those discs.
This single-tray model features twin blue laser diodes, twin HD lenses, and a third red laser diode for the playback of standard-definition DVDs that will be upconverted. The player will also include a proprietary LG optical pick-up and the HD DVD/Blu-ray chipset from Broadcom. Rounding out the feature set of the BH100 is embedded software based on BD java, HDMI 1.2, and the capability to output the lossless audio codecs of Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD, and MPEG1/MPEG2 audio. While it offers full Blu-ray Disc functionality and interoperability, it can only play back HD DVDs. The BH100, which outputs 24- and 30-frame-per-second 1080p signals, supports various A/V formats, including MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 video.
The unit also includes multiple inputs/outputs such as HDMI (v.1.2a) out, component/composite video outputs, and optical/coaxial/discrete 5.1 channel audio outputs, among others. The strikingly designed unit incorporates elegant and easy-to-use backlit touch sensor buttons situated along the top of the player, along with an ergonomic remote control that delivers an effortless command of the next-generation home entertainment experience.
Basically, LG is trying to sidestep the format war entirely by producing products that don’t favor one format or another. And they won’t be the only company producing dual-format products; Samsung recently announced a dual-format HD player, and it is known that Denon has a dual-format HD player in the works also.
Image Courtesy of LG Electronics
Testing and Use
Clearly, there are certain movies that were meant to be seen and heard that are only available on HD DVD. Current offerings, for example, include Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Happy Feet, The Ultimate Matrix Collection, Miami Vice: Unrated Director’s Edition, and The Polar Express, among other HD DVD titles. Miami Vice, which was shot in HD by Michael Mann, looked especially gritty and realistic also.
Numerous Blu-ray movies were also watched also including Disney’s The Wild, Déjà Vu, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut, Flyboys, and King Arthur: Director’s Cut to name a few titles. Each title in its own way offers different issues, from dark scenes to intricate fast motion images, that can tax any player. In each case, the texture of the film appeared very crisp, clear, and precise, and different shades of black were easily discernable.
One title in particular from Warner Home Video, which is available in both HD DVD and Blu-ray, shows off any high-definition format. That film is John Ford’s The Searchers. It makes you believe that you can reach out and touch Monument Valley. It’s simply spectacular and a sight not to be missed.
I have to say that standard-definition DVDs looked terrific also. Titles viewed included Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Cars, The Da Vinci Code, Peter Pan (Platinum Edition), and Over The Hedge, among others. The player, which includes its own proprietary video upconversion circuitry, did a nice job converting 480p titles to 1080i.
LG has come under fire for its introduction of the dual-format high-definition optical disc player. Apparently, some folks are not happy that the player does not include all of the interactive features of a full-blown HD DVD player. I just don’t get it.
I, on the other hand, applaud LG for their forward thinking. As the company noted at their press conference at CES 2007, originally, the player was supposed to play back only Blu-ray Discs, but it was modified so that it would also play HD DVD discs. LG had the foresight to say, “Hey, wait a minute,” and went back to the drawing boards to make their offering “a player for all formats.” If the BH100 is successful, I’m sure that the second-generation model will feature full HD DVD interoperability.
Let’s face it. As of right now, there’s no clear winner or loser in the high-definition disc format race. While it’s true that Blu-ray has seven out of eight movie studios producing their discs, there are only four that are completely exclusive to BD. The other studios are producing discs in both formats. On the HD DVD side, Universal is exclusive to HD DVD and is not producing any BDs. On top of that, Microsoft is behind HD DVD (besides Toshiba). Nothing is clear cut here except the propaganda coming out of each camp.
Is the player perfect? Obviously, I wish that it had more HD DVD functionality. Yes, it’s true that you could buy a stand-alone Blu-ray Disc player and stand-alone HD DVD player for about the same price, but you would not get the ease-of-use factor of having one component instead of two. Buying this player allows you the opportunity of enjoying both formats, which offer superior HD picture quality. And just because the suggested retail price is $1,199 USD, that doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll actually pay for it at retail. Like other consumer electronics products, I would expect that you could get it for well under $1,000 USD. And while there’s a lot of hype from both the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD camps, there is still no clear winner in the “Format War” right now. Although BD player sales seem larger than HD DVD right now, it’s only because of the PlayStation3; gamers are traditionally a demographic that wants games, not movies. In terms of stand-alone player sales, HD DVD is ahead. So, to hedge your bets, the BH100 makes perfect sense, allowing you to enjoy high-definition movies from all studios in all formats.
• Plays back both HD DVDs and Blu-ray Discs
• 1080p screen resolution (in Blu-Ray and HD DVD playback)
• Easy to use
• Simplified remote
• Does not have full HD DVD interactive menus and interoperability
• HDMI version 1.2a, not HDMI version 1.3
• No 1080p upconversion
• Poor backlight on remote