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Toshiba hints at HD DVD launch delay

Knocked back into 2006?

Toshiba may not launch HD DVD products until 2006, breaking its previously stated deadline for the introduction of the technology.

Toshiba and other HD DVD backers have for some time pegged late 2005 as the launch point for the next-generation, blue-laser optical disc format in the US and Japan.

However, a spokeswoman at the company's Tokyo HQ today revealed that for Toshiba at least, zero-hour may now come in 2006, Reuters reports. Toshiba may launch in Japan this year, the spokeswoman hinted, but it certainly seems unlikely that the planned end-of-year US debut will now not take place.

Other HD DVD supporters may still choose to ship in 2005, but with Toshiba leading the HD DVD promotional activity, it's hard to see other firms failing to follow suit.

"We are now in talks with Hollywood studios and large-scale retailers to seek the most effective timing of the launch and best way to launch," the spokeswoman told the news agency.

That language suggests either the technology has slipped to the point where its appearance would come too close to the US' Holiday sales period - possibly even past it - to justify the big promotional efforts launching the format will inevitably require, or that said parties no longer believe consumers are ready for the technology.

Certainly HD DVD looked like launching well ahead of rival format Blu-ray Disc (BD). The BD camp has never announced a formal launch timeframe, but comments from Sony have suggested a Q1 2006 debut, most likely toward the end of that period, when the BD-equipped PlayStation 3 is scheduled to ship in Japan.

PS3's US debut is reckoned to be some way after that time, as per past PlayStation launches, so we could easily be looking at Q3 2006 before BD is launched as a consumer content format in the US. So HD DVD still has a fairly good lead on its rival, and with that in mind Toshiba and co. may well have decided they don't need to rush the launch just for the sake of coming to market first.

Any delay also gives both camps further opportunity to discuss merging their favoured formats and averting a war no one wants. Sony paved the way for such negotiations earlier this year, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement, and that was that. More recently, however, we've seen reports noting various parties' statements that an agreement seems unlikely. If the talks proved unsuccessful in June, why are people still moaning about a failure to reach a compromise? We suspect the talks are ongoing, with both camps monitoring consumer reactions to HD DVD and BD developments in the hope of gaining some advantage.

Any agreement to unite the two formats will require one of the two hardware formats to be ditched, retaining only the data structure and other refinements. Both have advantages at the hardware level: BD has a considerable capacity lead, while HD DVD has the benefit of greater simplicity. ®

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