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First HD Disc Players Debut

1/16/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Members of the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc promotion groups fired off the first rounds in the new high-stakes, high-definition optical disc format war at International CES by unveiling some of the first players and software, expected to hit dealer shelves starting this spring.

Backers of the HD DVD format took the early lead at the show by unveiling what will probably be the first high-definition optical disc players in the market.

Toshiba, a key HD DVD format developer, announced plans to market two HD DVD players in March at suggested retail prices of $499.99 and $799.99, respectively.

The entry model (HD-A1) was half the price of an HD DVD player Toshiba announced at last year's show. Due to ongoing work on the AACS digital rights management system used in both the HD DVD and rival Blu-ray Disc formats, that player never made the originally announced late 2005 launch date.

Both players will output content in multiple resolution formats, including 720p and 1,080i high definition.

The step-up player (model HD-XA1) will add a richer cosmetic design, solid chassis construction, a motorized door and USB port, but audio and video compatibility and output in the two units will be similar, said Jodi Sally, Toshiba digital A/V products group marketing VP.

Toshiba also showed off a Qosmio multimedia laptop — the first with HD DVD-ROM drive and Dolby home theatre suite sound. It is slated to ship in March at a price to be announced later.

Toshiba will begin priming the U.S. market this February by releasing demo HD DVD players to retailers in 38 key video watching markets.

In addition, retailers including Amazon, Crutchfield, Tweeter, Sears and Best Buy will soon begin promoting Toshiba HD DVD players on their Web sites.

Thomson also announced plans to market a $499.99 HD DVD player (model HDV5000) under the RCA label in the second quarter, but few details were available. Sanyo also showed a prototype HD DVD player it expects to release this year.

The announced price on the entry Toshiba and RCA HD DVD models was half the cost of the least expensive Blu-ray Disc player announced at the show.

Samsung said it plans to offer an entry Blu-ray player in late April at a $1,000 suggested retail.

Model BD-P1000 will output both 720p and 1,1080i signals, will be backward compatible with most optical disc formats — including DVD-RAM, -RW and +RW — and features a wide range of flash-memory card slots.

Pioneer was the only other Blu-ray Disc manufacturer to announce pricing at the show. The company said it will launch a high-end unit under the Elite brand in May at an $1,800 suggested retail. That unit will output all standard high-definition formats plus 1,080p.

The Elite player comes with Home Media Gallery function that allows it to display A/V content from Ethernet-connected servers compliant with Digital Living Network Alliance interoperability specifications. It will also display content from Windows XP PCs using Windows Media Connect.

The Blu-ray player supports all high-bandwidth multichannel audio codecs except lossless Dolby TrueHD because of the codec's late development, Pioneer said.

In the first quarter, Pioneer plans delivery of a $995-suggested Blu-ray/DVD writer for PCs, but the BDR-101A is intended primarily for content creators who will use them to test and evaluate high-definition consumer Blu-ray Disc titles during the authoring process. Nonetheless, consumers could use the half-height writer to record HDTV shows from a PC's internal TV tuner, Pioneer noted.

The Blu-ray Disc/DVD writer will read BD-ROM/R/RE, DVD-ROM/DVD-R/DVD-RW and +R/+RW discs. It writes Blu-ray discs at 2x speed, write-once DVDs at 8x speed and rewritable DVDs at 4x speed.

Meanwhile, LG, Panasonic, Philips and Sony all announced plans to market Blu-ray Disc players in 2006 but offered no pricing plans and few feature details.

Philips said it will ship its BDP 9000 Blu-ray Disc player in the second half of 2006 at a price to be determined. Also in the second half, the company plans to offer a PC triple writer, which will write to write-once and rewritable Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and CDs.

The player will support all high-bandwidth multichannel audio formats, including DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD, for output in native form via the player's HDMI 1.3 output, which also transfers 1,080p video.

Sony's first home BD player — model BDP-S1 — will be available in early summer and will feature 1,080p output capability and DVD up-scaling to 1,080p, the company said.

Also this summer, Sony will introduce RC series Vaio desktop computers with BD recording technology for home-based HD movie productions. After- market drives with BD technology are also expected to be offered for PCs this year.

In additional to dedicated disc players and PC drives, both formats will have the support of popular next-generation video game systems.

Sony's PlayStation 3 will support Blu-ray Disc out of the box when it hits the market later this year. The price of that gaming system may be the new entry price for high-definition optical disc adoption.

Meanwhile, Robbie Bach, Microsoft entertainment devices division president, said that Microsoft plans to offer an external HD DVD drive for its newly launched Xbox 360 video game console.

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