Toshiba announces first HD DVD recorder

Toshiba announced Friday that it will ship the first HD DVD recorder, RD-A1, on July 14--but don't get too excited: The recorder will only be available in Japan at launch.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise--when last quizzed on recording for the home, the HD DVD Promotion Group indicated to me that recorders wouldn't likely hit until next year, and that may yet be the case for the U.S. market. I was also told that, after the postponements of the HD DVD player, an announcement about a recorder wouldn't come until closer to when something would ship--which is exactly what Toshiba did with its announcement earlier today.

The announcement does explain why, suddenly, media manufacturers, including Verbatim and RitekUSA, announced impending availability of recordable HD DVD-R media. And with this announcement, the precarious balance in the next-gen optical battle is rocked. Only slightly, though.

The timing of the announcement takes attention away from rival format Blu-ray, which this week launched its first titles from Sony; the first player, from Samsung, officially launches on Sunday. None of the manufacturers selling Blu-ray-based players have discussed recorder availability, and the Blu-ray Disc Association can't commit to a time frame for recorder availability--a spokesperson said that will be up to the individual companies involved in Blu-ray.

High-definition recording is not new: Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, and Samsung Electronics have offered Blu-ray-based recorders overseas. What is interesting to note about the Toshiba, though, is that it does support the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) copy controls.

Like those other recorders, the RD-A1 will be expensive: About US$3600 in US dollars. For that admission price, you'll get a 1-terabyte hard disk, as well as support for recording to single-layer 15GB HD DVD-R and dual-layer 30GB HD DVD-R discs (for up to 115 and 230 minutes of video, respectively, and for recording to standard DVD-R/RW/RAM media. Other notable specs include: The recorder will output images at 1080p resolution; can upconvert DVDs to 1080p; is DLNA-compliant; and includes Internet connectiviy via Toshiba's Net de Navi software, for remotely programming recordings online.

The specs certainly make me salivate. I'm never home, and need to record my television for viewing later (sound familiar?). I've long resisted the lure of HD in part because I know it would be wasted on me: I'd never be able to watch TV recorded in it (yes, there are HD hard disk recorders now, and none of those would work for me--I'd have them full in no time). Not that I have a spare US$3600 lying around (plus more for a high-def display to match), but this announcement makes the future of home recording suddenly seem a lot more real to me--even if I will probably still have to wait another year or two before the prices come out of the stratosphere, and into the realm of us mere mortals.

How important is recording televised HD content to you?

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