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Cheap HD DVD players coming from China

LAS VEGAS—Chinese manufacturers, known for low-cost consumer products, will begin making and shipping HD DVD players for the U.S. market by the end of 2007, HD DVD promotional group execs announced at an event here Sunday evening.

Chinese manufacturers Alco, Shinco and Lite-On will join Toshiba in making players as will Japanese company Onkyo, execs announced. Microsoft may also make players, officials said, but didn’t provide further details. Car system manufacturer Alpine is making a player for cars.

The move is expected to add lower-priced players to the market, which could greatly expand household penetration for the format.

Meanwhile, Toshiba, so far the only manufacturer with HD DVD set-top players on the market, is ramping up player production, conservatively projecting it will ship more than 1.8 million units to the market this year, Toshiba’s Digital Media Network president and CEO Yoshihidi Fujii said.

Overall, the group is projecting more than 2.5 million players will be sold through 2007.

The group said more than 175,000 players were sold between the format’s April, 2006 launch and Jan. 5.

Their early adopter purchasers have a healthy movie appetite. The attach rate for HD DVD, the average number of movies people buy for each player sold, is 28, said Craig Kornblau, chair of the HD DVD Promotional Group and president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

The group is projecting HD DVD movie sales to exceed $600 million in 2007 with more than 600 movies available by year-end. Among the coming titles is the original Star Trek from Paramount Home Entertainment, Kornblau said.

Kornblau and other execs emphasized HD DVD’s interactive ability and that “all features work on every player you buy,” a dig at the first generation of Blu-ray players, which won’t have full interactive capabilities.

The group also unveiled a 51GB triple-layer disc that they said will debut in the fourth quarter and allow more space for interactive features.

Microsoft director of HD DVD evangelism Kevin Collins showed off the new wow interactive features that will use Microsoft’s HDi technology to allow users to send their favorite movie clips to the player of a friend over the Internet. Using a prototype Miami Vice HD DVD, Collins demonstrated the new feature, sending clips from the movie to another player, where the clips were downloaded and viewed through the new “Download Center.” Collins also showed other potential download offerings such as a movie clip in the corner of the screen with an advertisement for the Volkswagen GTI in the main part of the screen.

“HD DVD is the only format that has delivered on these features,” Collins said of the interactivity.

Users would have to register with Universal, or whichever studio distributed the movie, to send and download clips. This also would allow for targeted download features such as movie trailers based on films playing nearby a user.

The group began its presentation with a man-on-the-street reel asking people if they’d heard of HD DVD. Kornblau said two-thirds of consumers are aware of the format, according to the latest research.

The Blu-ray Disc Association holds its press event Monday afternoon and is expected to unveil details on its new interactive feature, dubbed BD Live.