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January 4, 2006 11:12 pm

HD-DVD format war looms for consumers

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The launch of competing and incompatible high-definition DVD players leaves consumers facing another confusing and costly format war.

Leading consumer electronics manufacturers including Toshiba, Pioneer, Philips, LG and Samsung used the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which formally begins on Thursday, to debut competing Blu-ray and HD-DVD format DVD players.

Toshiba has led the consortium backing the HD-DVD format while a Sony-led group has promoted Blu-ray, which has been adopted by most of the big Hollywood movie studios.

The camps have been locked in a three-year battle to have their standards adopted for high definition DVDs, which promise much higher video quality and capacity for high-definition movies.

"HD-DVD represents the future of HD digital video," Yoshihiro Matsumoto, president of Toshiba America Consumer Products, said on Wednesday. "It gives consumers a clear migration path from DVD."

The company said that it would offer two models of HD-DVD players, compatible with the current generation of DVDs, in March. One model will cost $499, the other $799.

The product launches come amid a surge of interest in HD content and soaring HD flat panel TV sales in the US and elsewhere.

At the same time, movie studios and other video content providers hope the introduction of high definition DVDs will rekindle interest in flagging DVD sales.

Several Hollywood studios aligned with Blu-ray, including Sony Pictures, Fox and Lionsgate, announced that they would make available films on the format in the months ahead, including Fantastic Four, Hitch and Reservoir Dogs. Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, said it would release hits such as Tomb Raider on both formats.

However the product announcements also underscore the failure of the consumer electronics industry and its partners in the PC and media sectors to agree on a common standard for the next generation of DVD players and recorders.

Consumers will have to choose between the competing standards and risk investing in a technology that quickly becomes obsolete as they did during the VHS-Betamax video tape format war.

There is growing speculation in Hollywood that the new format could make less of a splash than originally predicted as studios make more content available to consumers through video-on-demand, which does not require shipping or inventory costs.

Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin in New York

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