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HD DVD Delayed Again

HD DVD has missed another deadline, this time the end-of-2005 launch date for Japan. HD DVD’s main developer, Toshiba, said the reason for the delay is that the standards for the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) copy protection scheme (used in both HD DVD and Blu-ray) are not finalized yet.

Just under a year ago at CES 2005 Toshiba and several other companies then supporting HD DVD brazenly announced HD DVD’s US launch for the end of 2005. This pre-emptive strike was planned to get HD DVD players priced at $999 or less and almost 100 titles into stores months ahead of Blu-ray’s Spring 2006 launch. Not only did the 2005 US launch fail to materialize, there is now only one major Hollywood studio exclusively in the HD DVD camp, with the other major studios supporting the competing Blu-ray Disc standard jointly or exclusively.

As the US launch migrated to 1st quarter of 2006, a launch in Japan was targeted for late this year amid wonders as to whether HD DVD still has enough support in Hollywood for an aggressive launch. By late summer Warner and Paramount, two of the key studios that previously supported HD DVD exclusively, pulled the plug on the 2005 US launch with executives from Warner stating their hope that an agreement could be reached with the Blu-ray camp on a single format. By late October both studios had announced support for Blu-ray as well, and the knowledge that all parties involved at the studios agree that two formats in the market will lessen the chances of success for either format lead to speculation that come launch time Warner and Paramount might in fact be Blu-ray studios exclusively.

In an official statement Toshiba said it is still aiming for an early 2006 launch in Japan of players and HD DVD drives for PCs, and that a US launch is imminent in the first quarter of 2006. Although hardware was mentioned specifically, Toshiba’s statement didn’t indicate whether the studios would support the Japan launch with pre-packaged titles. These questions exhibit Sony’s unique strength in launching a next generation format- since it owns Columbia Pictures and MGM Sony doesn’t need to rely on other studios to support a launch with a formidable number of titles.

Although we’re certain to know more after next month’s CES show in Las Vegas, the talk now is that HD DVD and Blu-ray will be launching in March or April along with the Blu-ray enabled PlayStation3. HD DVD’s chances for success in the market cannot be regarded as enhanced by launching so close to Blu-ray and PS3, which Sony has stated will be priced at $300-$400.

Speaking of game consoles, while Microsoft ostensibly remains committed to HD DVD, it recently announced that there is no HD DVD version of the Xbox 360 in the works. Any games released using the HD DVD platform wouldn’t be backward compatible with existing Xbox 360s already in the field. If looks as though PlaySation3 will be the world’s first, and for the foreseeable future, only high-definition gaming console.

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