HD-DVD, Blu-ray launch timing becomes clearer

Plans for the introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-ray players have become more clear.

Launch timing for the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc optical disc formats became clearer on Friday with the disclosure by two companies of their initial sales plans.

The two formats are vying to replace current DVDs for high-definition content, such as movies, and have pitted industry giants against each other. The main backers of HD-DVD include Toshiba, NEC and Intel while those backing Blu-ray Disc include Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic) and Samsung Electronics Co..

Sony said its first Blu-ray Disc player, the BDP-S1, will be available in the U.S. from July at about US$1,000. The company had previously committed to an "early summer" launch. Samsung plans to put a Blu-ray Disc player on sale in April.

The Sony player will support a video output at 1,080 lines of resolution and progressive scanning, the company said in a statement. This is dubbed "full HD" and is the highest of several video formats considered high-definition. As a concession to content providers, the full HD output will only be available via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connector that supports copy protection. Owners of TV sets without an HDMI connector will be able to watch up to a 1,080-line interlaced signal, which is the second highest rank of high-definition picture.

Sony has priced its first desktop computer that will have a Blu-ray Disc burner. The drive will be able to write to 25G-byte and 50G-byte BD-RE (rewritable) and BD-R (write once) discs. Sony will start selling 25G-byte BD-RE and BD-R discs in April for US$20 and US$25 respectively and 50G-byte capacity versions of the same discs later in the year for US$48 and US$60 respectively.

The Vaio RC will be launched in "early summer" and will cost around US$2,300. At the Cebit IT show in Germany last week, Sony announced plans for a Vaio notebook with a Blu-ray Disc drive.

On the HD-DVD side, Warner Home Video said it will start selling HD-DVD titles on April 18. The first movies will include "Million Dollar Baby," "The Last Samurai" and "The Phantom of the Opera." The discs will cost US$29 each and will be followed by 17 additional titles including "Batman Begins," "Constantine," "Training Day" and "The Matrix," the company said in a statement.

Warner's launch timing, the first HD-DVD content to get a launch date, calls into question Toshiba's plan to put HD-DVD players on sale in March.

Toshiba said Friday that it intends to synchronize the launch of its first players, the US$500 HD-A1 and $800 HD-XA1, with the availability of content. The launch plans of other studios are yet to be announced but Toshiba's statement indicates its player could be delayed a month should content not be available until April.

A similar delay could hit Samsung's April launch plans since the earliest Blu-ray Disc content announced to-date is set to go on sale on May 23.

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Martyn Williams

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