Toshiba To Ship HD DVD Players in March

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Japanese electronics giant Toshiba announced today that it plans to begin selling HD DVD players in North America in March 2006, a full three months ahead of Blu-Ray players to be offered by companies like Sony and Pioneer.

Toshiba’s first HD DVD players dubbed the HD-XA1 and HD-A1 will be priced at $799 and $499. Toshiba says content from major Hollywood studios should be available in HD DVD format by the time the players hit the market. The company claims both models will offer high definition images, crystal clear audio, and enhanced functionality including “iHD” navigation.

Toshiba’s U.S. launch of HD DVD players may be the first in the world: although both Toshiba and the rival Blu-Ray camp had planned to release players in the Japanese market first, neither company has confirmed release dates for the Japanese market.

Yesterday, Microsoft also announced it plans to ship a movie-playing external HD DVD player for its Xbox 360 video game system during 2006.

The mutually-incompatible HD DVD and Blu-Ray next-generation DVD disk formats have been competing for mindshare and industry dominance for years, but the battle has become particularly heated since negotiations to unify the two formats broke down last year and products and studios increasingly pressed for products to come to market. The Blu-Ray camp is led by Sony Corporation, which plans to ship Blu-Ray drives in its forthcoming PlayStation 3 console and plans to start selling Blu-Ray players in the U.S. by mid-year; Blu-Ray is backed by many electronics and manufacturers including Apple Computer, Matsushita, and Pioneer. HD DVD is supported by Intel, Microsoft, and (increasingly) Hewlett-Packard, and is generally favored for its more-transparent scheme for “managed copies” of media, which would seem to enable simpler personal use of D DVD media throughout (say) a home network than would Blu-Ray. Hollywood studios are increasingly straddling the fence, saying the plan to support both Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats, at least until a clear winner emerges.