CES : Toshiba HD-DVD players coming in March

Toshiba Corp. plans to launch its first two HD-DVD players in the U.S. market in March of this year, the company said Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show show in Las Vegas.

The low-end player, called the HD-A1 will be priced at US$500. A second player, called the HD-XA1, will cost $800, the company said.

Toshiba is backing the HD-DVD format as a successor to the DVD optical disc standard for high definition recordings and movies. Devices based on the competing Blu-ray Disc optical format, backed by Sony Corp., are also expected to being shipping in 2006.

The price of the cheapest player, announcement of which has been keenly awaited by the consumer electronics industry and the customers it serves, is at the low end of expectations. Until now Toshiba had said nothing regarding the price of players beyond a vague “sub-$1,000” range. Prices for players supporting the other format, Blu-ray Disc, are yet to be disclosed but announcements could come this week at CES.

“It’s a price point to accelerate market adoption,” said Jodi Sally, president of U.S. marketing for Toshiba’s digital audio-visual products, at a Las Vegas news conference. She said the price was a level at which Toshiba’s consumer research has indicated consumers expect to pay for the new products.

Both players will output a 720p and 1080i (720 line progressive scanning and 1080 lines interlaced scanning) high-definition signal via HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) to a compatible high-definition television. Both products can also play current DVDs and will up-convert a standard-definition picture from DVD to high definition, which is said to make it clearer.

The machines also support a number of audio formats that are part of HD-DVD, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and DTS HD. The more expensive HD-XA1 player has four digital signal processors, said Toshiba.

To promote the HD-DVD players and format, which is backed by a smaller number of major companies than the competing Blu-ray Disc format, Toshiba is planning a series of promotions in 38 major U.S. markets, it said.

Toshiba had hoped to beat Blu-ray backers to the punch by making these players available in 2005, but a delay in the development of the copy-protection system standard for the players caused the launch to be pushed back.

Toshiba also plans to launch a version of its Qosmio entertainment laptop PC with an internal HD-DVD drive.

(Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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