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Toshiba takes DVD war to stores

The race to set the industry standard for high-definition DVDs swept into Japan's stores Friday as Toshiba put on sale its first next-generation player.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2006 17:46 IST
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The race to set the industry standard for high-definition DVDs swept into Japan's stores Friday as Toshiba put on sale its first next-generation player.

Supporters of the HD DVD format pushed by Toshiba and NEC are vying with the rival Blu-ray format, led by Panasonic and Sony, in a replay of the VHS-Betamax battle between two types of video cassette tapes in the late 1970s.

"We are heading into another a format war," said Carlos Dimas, a consumer electronics analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets.

In a low-key launch only confirmed on the day, Toshiba began selling its HD-XA1 high-definition player in Japan for about 110,000 yen ($850).

Two different types of HD DVD players, which promise cinematic quality images and new possibilities in interactive entertainment, will also gradually hit the US market in April.

Japanese electronics makers have invested heavily in the future of DVDs and are fighting a fierce campaign to try to convince consumers that their product should become the dominant format.

"I cannot emphasize enough that our standard is better than Blu-ray," Toshiba senior executive vice president Yoshihide Fujii said at a hastily-arranged press conference to announce the launch.

"We hope to pursue a strategic marketing campaign so that our customers will make a swift transition to next-generation DVDs," he said.

The Panasonic brand maker, Matsushita, said Wednesday it will start selling its first Blu-ray high-definition DVD player in North America in September.

Sony has been selling an earlier version of the Blu-ray Disc recorder/player since April 2003 but so far no movies are available in the format. Sony Pictures hopes to start selling the first wave of Blu-ray disc titles in May.

Toshiba's Fujii said that as many as 200 DVD titles will become available for HD DVD players by the end of this year. Toshiba hopes to sell 600,000 to 700,000 of the new players in the fiscal year to March 2007.

Fujii suggested Toshiba will gradually cut prices of the players to "reasonable" levels.

"Becoming the first one to start selling the new product is not going to give you any edge over others. Unless prices become more reasonable, DVD players won't sell," he said.

Sony, which is in the midst of painful restructuring, has much riding on the success of its Blu-ray technology.

Analysts say the electronics icon has an advantage in that its own format will reach thousands of homes in the next version of its hot-selling PlayStation video games console due for launch in November.

"I think Sony will prevail simply because the PlayStation 3 will give Sony the penetration that Toshiba will not be able to match," said CLSA's Dimas.

In his view the HD DVD standard pushed by Toshiba and its partners is at best likely to be relegated to a distant second place and used mainly for computers rather than stand-alone players.

Hollywood studios, who could ultimately decide the fate of the two formats, are split in their support for either Toshiba or Sony.

Warner Bros and Paramount Home Entertainment are hedging their bets by officially backing both sides.

Walt Disney, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox are members of the Blu-ray association while Universal Pictures has given its support to HD DVD.

Microsoft, Sony's arch-rival in the market for home games consoles, is another supporter of HD DVD and eventually aims to make its next-generation "Windows Vista" operating system compatible with Toshiba's format.