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The HD DVD high-definition video disk format backed by Toshiba won the battle to be first on the US market yesterday, with two Hollywood studios launching movies on the new format, and the first HD DVD players reaching retail stores.

But it was a tentative start. Universal and Warner Home Video shipped a total of just three titles: The Last Samurai, The Phantom of the Opera, and Serenity.

Players from Toshiba sold at Best Buy stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, but supplies were scarce and all sold out quickly. The players sell for US$499.

Most of the big Hollywood studios are backing the rival Blu-ray format, promoted by Sony. Sony expects to ship its first Blu-ray titles on May 23 – but the first Blu-ray player (from Samsung) is not due in the stores until late June.

Warner Home Video forecasts that overall industry sales of next-generation DVDs will reach as much as US$750 million in the last quarter of this year.

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