Wayne (NJ) – Earlier this week we learned that Sony will be launching its Blu-ray format at the end of May; the competing HD DVD camp today announced that it will beat that mark by about two months. There will be slightly more choice in hardware but it is unknown which and HD DVDs movies will be offered at launch.
The term “more choice,” of course, is relative. Sony announced that there will be only one player, built by Samsung, available at launch. Toshiba said it will be offering two players at the end of March.
First, there will be the entry-level HD-A1, which will be priced at $500, just about half of what Samsung’s Blu-ray player will cost. The second model, HD-XA1, offers a few upgrades and rings in at $800. Both models will be available through retailers such as Best Buy at the end of this month, according to Toshiba.
The feature set of both players are somewhat underwhelming, considering the significant price. Both units are backwards compatible with common DVD and CD formats. Compared to the entry-level model, the higher-end version offers MP3 and WMA playback capability as well some gadgets such as a fancier display and a motorized drop-door. That’s about it.
Video support appears to be the same for both models and here’s what some customers may find disappointing. Both models do not support full support the full 1080p resolution (1920×1080) but are limited to 720p/1080i. Those stunning and realistic videos we have seen at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show apparently have to wait until the second generation of HD DVD players arrives.
Also somewhat strange is the integration of Ethernet ports on the backside panel of both players. We are not sure how many households in fact have an Ethernet connection next to their cable outlet or how many people are willing to run Ethernet cables under the carpet or through walls into their office in order to be able to get access to those premium interactive features the entertainment industry is promising. At least for now, Ethernet is the only way to connect an HD DVD player (and most likely also Blu-ray players) to a broadband Internet connection, as sources indicated that wireless connections are considered not to be safe enough to withstand content piracy.
Toshiba mentioned that it is launching a marketing campaign to support the launch of both players. The company did not say which HD DVD movies will be available at launch; however, the HD DVD information website lists 43 titles that apparently are “ready for launch.”