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Toshiba have confirmed that they will not launch its next-generation HD-DVD players till early in 2006. Many are tipping that it will be tied to the CES Expo in January 2006 in Las Vegas.

 

Sony and Toshiba have been waging a three-year battle for supporters of their respective formats, both of which promise better visual quality and storage capacity over current-generation players. The players with the HD-DVD format backed by Toshiba were originally scheduled to hit the U.S. market by the end of the year. “We have been discussing with content holders the most effective way to launch in the U.S. market, and it will probably be in February or March,” said Yoshihide Fuji, Toshiba corporate vice president, at the news conference. Early this month, Toshiba had indicated the delay in the launch but had not yet specified the exact timing  The launch of HD-DVD, even as late as March 2006, could give it an edge over Blu-ray, which is not expected to hit stores until mid 2006.

“Blu-ray will launch around April 2006 and [HD-DVD] will get a time-to-market advantage,” said Josh Martin, an analyst with research firm IDC.

 Toshiba executive Mark Knox told Red Herring earlier this month the HD-DVD delay stems from having to finalize discussions with HD-DVD partners such as retailers, studios, and replication houses as the partners want to maximize the success of the launch. Hollywood studios feel it’s best to launch the technology when all the hardware and software is ready to go instead of trickling it out before it’s finished. One task the HD-DVD group needs to do is  build up the inventory of the products before they are launched.

However, another possible reason for the delayed launch could be that the HD-DVD group took longer than expected to finalize content protection schedules, said Mr. Martin. The AACS, or Advanced Access Content System, provides copy protection to next-generation DVDs to prevent piracy. Both formats will carry this system.

Mr. Martin said the February-March timeframe for the launch of HD-DVD players in the U.S. seems like a reasonable target.

 Slim Chance for More Delays

There remains a chance for more delays, but it is slim, said Mr. Martin. The Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps could decide to restart talks over unifying the two formats. Or, the AACS finalisation could get pushed back further, said Mr. Martin.The Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps have been in talks for several months on unifying the formats to avoid confusion in the marketplace for consumers. But talks have come to a standstill now as the two sides have not reached a compromise (see Toshiba: Blu-ray Won’t Bargain).

 Sony plans to launch its PlayStation 3 video gaming console around the same time as the Blu-ray products and this generation of the PlayStation will carry a Blu-ray drive. Toshiba has said the Japan launch of HD-DVD players will stay on its end-of-year launch schedule. Earlier this week two tech giants, Microsoft and Intel, announced their backing for the HD-DVD format (see Microsoft, Intel Vote HD-DVD). This has solidified HD-DVD’s position as it previously had backing only from Sanyo and NEC.

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