Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. said Tuesday copy protection issues would delay the Japan launch of the first players supporting its HD DVD format, the latest development in the high-stakes battle for the next generation of video discs.

Players will not hit the Japanese market until details of a copy protection system for the players are worked out, Toshiba said in a statement, reversing its earlier intention to roll out the first players in Japan by the end of the year. Toshiba did not give a specific release date.

But the company said it would continue to push for a U.S. launch early next year.

The delay brings the launch of the HD DVD, jointly developed by Toshiba and NEC Corp., closer to the expected debut of its main competitor, the Blu-ray disc, which is backed by Sony Corp.

PlayStation 3, Sony's popular next-generation video game console, is expected in Japan early next year and will read Blu-ray discs.

The two formats are incompatible, raising fears of a repeat of the VHS-versus-Beta battle over the format for videotape recorders in the early 1980s.

The HD DVD is backed by Universal Studios, Warner Bros. and Intel Corp., as well as Microsoft Corp., which hopes its new Xbox 360 video game console will challenge the longtime dominance of Sony's PlayStation.

Blu-ray is backed by Apple Computer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., along with a variety of other tech companies and studios.