March 31, 2006 12:13 pm

Toshiba begins selling first HD-DVD players

Toshiba on Friday began selling the world’s first next-generation DVD player in Japan, stealing a march on rival Sony, which plans to sell a competing optical disc format this year.

Toshiba’s high definition HD-XA1 DVD player went on sale for roughly Y110,000 in most stores, although it was being sold at a discount of about Y10,000 in some stores. Bic Camera, a leading Japanese electronics retailer, said its Yurakucho store in central Tokyo had sold out by 4pm.

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The company is expected to launch versions priced at $499 and $799 in the US by mid-April, to coincide with Warner Home Video’s launch of HD-DVD software on April18.

The move will give Toshiba a lead of more than three months in the US before rival Sony launches its competing Blu-ray DVD players in July. Sony earlier this month delayed the global release of its PlayStation 3 video-game console – which features Blu-ray DVD capability – until November, giving Toshiba more time to win over customers.

Toshiba and its allies, and a rival Sony consortium are racing to set the standard for next-generation film and video game discs. Toshiba and its partners, including Microsoft and Dell, are hoping that the early debut will give HD-DVD a head start against Blu-ray technology, which is also backed by Dell and most Hollywood studios.

But analysts said on Friday that the speed with which Toshiba launched its HD-DVD player would not necessarily give it an advantage. “Its success depends on what sort of content is available,” said Hiroshi Kamide, analyst at KBC Securities in Tokyo.

In Japan, Toshiba’s HD-DVD player will come bundled with two movie discs: Resident Evil, and Moonlight Jellyfish, a Japanese film. Two more movie titles will be available for sale at the end of April – Neverland and Shinobi, a Japanese film. Toshiba said it hoped that between 100 and 150 movie titles would be available in the format in Japan and Europe by December and 150-200 in the US.

Toshiba said on Friday it initially planned to manufacture 2,000 HD-DVD players a month. Yoshihide Fujii, head of the company's consumer electronics business, said the company expects to sell between 600,000 and 700,000 HD-DVD players in the fiscal year starting on Saturday. The company expects its player to debut in Europe in the October to December quarter.

Toshiba said it hoped to launch an HD-DVD recorder in Japan before June, the month soccer's World Cup tournament begins. It is aiming to launch HD-DVD equipped personal computers in the April-June quarter.

Additional reporting by Nobuko Juji

 

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