From Times Gadget aims to end DVD war and prevent another Betamax disaster Chris Ayres, Los Angeles # New player can read both formats # Apple to make big announcement Can a single gadget save the world’s biggest technology companies from one of the most embarrassing and costly follies in modern corporate history? The answer to the question may be found in Las Vegas this weekend as an estimated 150,000 executives, reporters and analysts gather to browse the newest electronic products from around the world. It is the biggest trade show in the United States and the largest conference of its kind. So far, the most pressing issue of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES as it is universally known, concerns the next generation of DVDs. After years of public squabbling between technology companies and billions of dollars spent on research and development, these new DVDs that promise high-definition picture quality have failed to capture the public’s imagination. The format of next-generation DVDs has been split into two rival camps: Sony, the champion of Blu-ray discs, and Toshiba, with HD-DVD. Consumers have been left wondering if there will be a replay of the VHS-Betamax debacle of the 1980s, in which millions wasted money on soon-to-be-obsolete Betamax machines. That has resulted in painfully slow uptake of either Blu-ray discs or HD-DVDs. Even the inclusion of Blu-ray capability in the new Sony Playstation 3 failed to produce enough High Street momentum. But one gadget is promising to come to the rescue. Tomorrow, the South Korean company LG Electronics will unveil a DVD player that supports both Blu-ray discs and HD-DVDs. At the same time, Hollywood’s Warner Bros studio will unveil a new type of high-definition disc that can hold recordings in both new DVD formats simultaneously. LG and Warner Bros hope to convince CES delegates that these advances can save the home video market, worth about $24 billion (£12 billion) a year in the US alone, or $460 million a week. Hamilton Faber, media analyst at Atlantic Equities in London, said: “If LG can get the price low enough, this could be a very attractive product.” But others caution that the LG player may not be the Holy Grail. Having seen the traditional music industry seriously damaged by Apple’s iPod and iTunes online music store, analysts are questioning whether the same thing could happen again with online video. The website YouTube is already proving to be a rival to TV networks, attracting an estimated 20 million users a month. The website Itwire.com said that it would take until 2008 for the prices of next-generation DVD players to come down to “sane” levels. “But by then it might be too late. Who will need Blu-ray or HD-DVD when consumers will be downloading movies and TV shows right to their hard drives?” But other issues also remain. Companies as powerful as Microsoft and Intel have already thrown their weight behind Toshiba’s HD-DVD format, which is so far leading the field, largely because of price: a standard Blu-ray player costs about $600, compared with $400 for an HD-DVD player. To complicate matters further, LG will have to pay royalties for both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD patents, which could make it prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, a wild card will be played in San Francisco, at the rival Macworld conference, where Apple is expected to make a typically bold announcement. It could involve a breakthrough technology called iTV, which allows video to be beamed wirelessly from a computer to a TV set. In other words, consumers will soon be able to watch YouTube from the comfort of their sofas. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, is already taunting the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps with a new advertising slogan that implicitly threatens to bury their formats: “The first 30 years were just the beginning,” it boasts. “Welcome to 2007.” Technological turkeys # Although claims are still made for Betamax’s technological superiority, its two-year lag behind VHS, expensive price tag and limited film catalogue sank Sony’s home video format in the 1980s # Though the much-touted LaserDisc, which went on sale in 1978, offered similar picture and sound quality to a DVD but at a much higher price and larger size, it did not take long for it to join the ranks of the great unused # The Sony MiniDisc, a small step ahead of CDs but a giant leap behind MP3 players, enjoyed a brief bite of the apple before being consumed itself by the iPod I hate uninformed journalists comparing a spoon to a fork.