Toshiba: HD DVD is no Loser to Blu-ray

LAS VEGAS — Toshiba Corp said on Sunday its HD DVD high-definition video format is not dead despite being dealt a big setback by Warner Bros studio’s decision to exclusively back Sony Corp’s rival Blu-ray technology.

Akiyo Ozaka, president of Toshiba America Consumer Products, told a briefing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that HD DVD “has not lost.”

Ozaka declined to comment on Toshiba’s next steps, which he said Toshiba’s HD DVD partners would have to discuss, after Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros, one of the world’s largest film studios, said it would back Blu-ray, an optical disk format for storing high-definition video.

Toshiba’s remarks were the latest salvo in a long-running battle over which format will dominate the next generation of technology for delivering high-definition movies to consumers.

The winner is expected to inherit a multibillion-dollar industry, although consumers so far have been confused by the standards war. Some analysts say they have also failed to see the attraction of high-definition.

Toshiba, the main backer of the HD DVD format, defended the technology on Sunday after the HD DVD consortium, a group of companies of which it is a part, cancelled plans to hold its own press conference at the Las Vegas trade show, the industry’s largest U.S. gathering.

“We were very disappointed with Warner Brothers’ announcement,” Ozaka said. “Sales of HD DVD were very good last year, especially in October to December.”

That was in contrast to the mood among Blu-ray technology promoters, who held their own reception at CES and congratulated themselves on the Warner decision.

The rivalry has been compared to the video-cassette-recorder format war of the late 1970s and early 1980s which ultimately Sony’s Betamax lost and JVC’s VHS won.

“To have one of the studios in its fold defect to the Blu-ray camp is a difficult challenge to overcome,” said Ross Rubin, director of consumer technology analysis at NPD Group, adding that “studio support is really critical to the format”.

Ozaka said North American sales of HD DVD players, including movie drives in Microsoft’s Xbox 360, totaled 1 million in the last year helped by downloads of high-definition video onto personal computers equipped with the technology.

The technology debuted broadly in the United States in 2006 but has not become a big hit with consumers yet.

Toshiba marketing executive Jodi Sally told the audience HD DVD remained the best technology, but acknowledged the Warner Bros announcement on Friday took her by surprise.

“It’s difficult for me to believe when all the pundits declare that HD DVD is dead,” Sally said. “Clearly, the events of the last few days have led many of you to that conclusion. We have been declared dead before. The reality is we ended 2007 with a majority of the year-to-date market share.”

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