Toshiba Unveils First HD DVD-Playing Laptop

Japanese technology firm Toshiba on Wednesday unveiled the first high definition laptop computer with a HD DVD optical drive for the new generation of DVD disks and a high resolution display.

The portable computer, introduced at the CeBIT electronics trade fair here, is the latest model under Toshiba's Qosmio range of high-end audio-video computers.

The computer will retail for a price between 2,500 and 3,500 euros and will be available in all countries within a few weeks, said Oscar Koenders, European computer marketing manager at Toshiba.

The computer is another weapon in the emerging multi-billion dollar battle for the next DVD standard.

The fight is between Blu-ray, backed by many electronics giants like Sony (SNE), Samsung, Philips (PHG) and Matsushita's (MC) Panasonic, and HD DVD championed by Toshiba Corp. and NEC (NIPNY).

Both formats offer more storage capacity than the current DVD format. This is needed to store high definition movies whose 4 to 5 times better picture detail means they contain 4 to 5 times more digital bits of information.

Blu-ray claims it offers higher capacity, up to 50 gigabytes for a dual-layer disk which is not yet on offer, while HD DVD claims it offers a cheaper system which is more compatible with the current DVD standard, which was set in 1995.

The first HD DVD players will be available first. Players and disks are scheduled for introduction this month.

"We think we can offer a player at 499 euros. To me it looks like we're a year ahead," Koenders said.

The first Blu-ray machines, announced by Samsung, Philips and Sony, will be roughly two to three times more expensive and most producers expect commercial introductions in the second half of the year. Samsung plans to sell its first player in May.

Blu-ray disks with pre-recorded movies will start selling in May at a price 20 percent above current DVD new release prices.

Failure of the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps to reach a unified standard has set the stage for a formats war akin to the VHS vs. Betamax battle of the 1980s. Each side hopes to reignite the sagging $24 billion home video market.

Support of the Hollywood studios is important, but the studios have told Toshiba that they in turn look to see which format gets the support from the computer industry.

"DVD [in the 1990s] picked up once the personal computer industry adpted it," Koenders said.

The world's biggest computer maker Dell (DELL) supports Blu-ray, but No. 2 Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) recently decided to also support HD DVD, whereas it earlier backed only Blu-ray.