LG to Announce Blu-ray / HD DVD Hybrid Drive at CES

After having whetted the public's appetite for a high-definition console capable of playing both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats at this time last year, and then publicly withdrawing that plan, LG Electronics this morning announced it is jumping back into the high-def pool head first. The company is promising to provide "details" next week, at CES 2007 in Las Vegas, of a hybrid HD DVD / Blu-ray Disc player.

That is all LG is promising for the moment, "details." There's no name for the device just yet, only a promise that it will be unveiled in the US early this year. There's also a single sentence: "LG expects this technological breakthrough to end the confusion and inconvenience of competing high-definition disc formats for both content producers and consumers."

The huge question before the industry is: will this be the catalyst to ending the format stalemate? Companies that have found themselves straddling the fence before, such as Samsung and Fujitsu-Siemens, may be compelled to follow suit if LG's announcement steals the show next week. Manufacturers such as Sony and Toshiba are expected to display the second generation of their Blu-ray and HD DVD players respectively, with HD DVD now promising 1080p support and Blu-ray Discs now available with more interactive BD-J features. But if the crowd flocks to the LG booth instead, everyone else's party could be effectively spoiled.

On the other hand, LG has made stunning promises before, and failed to deliver on them. Last March, the company's chief executive promised it would be the first manufacturer to deliver both Blu-ray and HD DVD consoles separately. After promising to provide the rest of the industry with components that simultaneously support both formats and then failing to do so, NEC stepped up to the plate last October.

Late last July, LG held an austere press event at, of all places, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York, to make what was supposed to have been a grand announcement. But there, the press was greeted with a public viewing of the company's existing Blu-ray-only player, kept out of the public's reach along with stunning likenesses of Princess Diana and Louis Armstrong.

There, LG officials professed their "strong support of Blu-ray," but then waffled on their marketing plans for the remainder of the year. To this day, the company never really stated their plan for 2006.

But in a clear sign that LG may have recognized this marketing plan as a fiasco, This Week in Consumer Electronics magazine learned this morning that LG is replacing its USA marketing chief with Allan Jason, a 20-year Sony veteran. Jason's welcome to the company could lead to an announcement next week that includes not some waxy imitation of a hybrid player commitment, but quite possibly the real thing.

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