Toshiba hints at HD-DVD delay

Toshiba will likely delay the launch of its first HD-DVD player because the copy protection system is yet to be completed, it said Tuesday.

Toshiba will likely delay the commercial launch of its first HD-DVD player because a group in charge of the copy-protection system for the format has yet to complete its work, the company said this week.

Toshiba is the main backer behind the HD-DVD format, which uses blue lasers to enable the storage of up to 15G bytes of information on a 12-centimeter optical disc. HD-DVD and a competing format, Blu-ray Disc, are vying to replace DVD as the de facto optical disc standard for high-definition content and movies.

In the anticipated fight between the two formats, an early launch of HD-DVD was one of its trump cards. Blu-ray Disc isn't expected to be available until sometime in 2006 and so a delay in Toshiba's launch plan could affect its chances of securing wide consumer support before Blu-ray Disc is launched.

Toshiba said design work on its first HD-DVD player is complete and factories stand ready to produce the players, but the company is waiting on version 1.0 of the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) copy protection system.

"Because the DVD Forum has adopted AACS as an integral part of the HD-DVD format, Toshiba will launch its HD-DVD products only after AACS is finalized," the company said in a statement. "Toshiba plans to launch HD-DVD players and notebook PCs with HD-DVD drives in Japan promptly following the implementation of AACS into hardware and software products."

The statement stopped short of saying HD-DVD products wouldn't be available in Japan before the end of this year as planned, but with about two weeks to go before the end of the year time is running short.

A delay would be the second for HD-DVD. A year ago, the format backers promised commercial availability of players in both Japan and the U.S. before the end of 2005. Toshiba earlier this year pushed back the U.S. launch until sometime in the first quarter of 2006.

The U.S. launch remains on track and more details are expected to be provided at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"Toshiba didn't have any choice because they don't want to launch even one player commercially that doesn't have a secure foundation to it," said Richard Doherty, research director at The Envisioneering Group.

"AACS was introduced to the public at [the National Association of Broadcaster's show] in April as version 0.9 with much fanfare and promise that it would be at 1.0 soon," he said. "The same was said at a show five weeks ago. I think the commercial sector would like a decision very soon."

"The real finger should be pointed to AACS to ask why it takes nine months for them to come up with this standard," Doherty said.

A spokeswoman for the AACS group could not immediately provide details about when version 1.0 might be approved.

AACS is made up of a number of companies from the electronics and content industries. The group's founders include IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Sony, Toshiba, The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros.

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Martyn Williams

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