If you’re itching to cast an early vote on which next-generation optical disc format will ultimately triumph, you’ll have your chance next month. AOpen, a Taiwanese PC and peripheral maker, plans to begin shipping Blu-ray drives for PCs in November. Just prepare to dig deep into your pockets: while AOpen has not yet revealed pricing, you can bet that it will cost a lotâ€”bleeding-edge technology always does.
“When they are first launched, Blu-ray drives will be sold at a premium,” confirmed Mike Chiang, senior director, AOpen. “This is no different from when dual-layer DVD writers and DVD/CD-RW combo drives first made their way on to the market. Those drives too were sold at premiums when they were first launched.”
So what will you put in your new Blu-ray drive should you purchase one next month? Judging by the current availability of blank Blu-ray media and Blu-ray movies, not a whole lot. A handful of manufacturers have shown off prototype Blu-ray drives in the last several months, but nothing appears to have made it to market yet. If AOpen’s Blu-ray drives ship in November as planned, it will be another notch in the belt of the Blu-ray Disk Association. So far, Blu-ray has gained the backing of a number of influential studios such as Disney, Fox, MGM, and Tri-Star. Paramount and Warner Brothers will support Blu-ray in addition to HD DVD. On the hardware side, Panasonic, Dell, Apple, Sony, and HP all plan to support the format as well. Last month, Microsoft raised doubts about whether Blu-ray would be ready for market in the timeframe suggested by Panasonic and other Blu-ray supporters. Earlier this month, Panasonic said it would begin shipping Blu-ray drives for laptops and desktops by spring 2006. AOpen’s announcement suggests that whatever difficulties the Blu-ray consortium has encountered are falling by the wayside. In contrast, the appearance of HD DVD has been delayed, as Toshiba decided against a holiday season launch. However, Microsoft cited its belief that HD DVD drives will be shipping sooner than Blu-ray in its decision to join Intel in backing the format. First to market may not matter that much in the end. There will always be early adopters, but it’s a good bet that the majority of consumers will take a wait-and-see approach to see which technology is better supported, and more importantly, if Blu-ray matches HD DVD’s full support for Managed Copy.