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HD DVD Players Hit Stores, Sell Out Quickly

The first wave of next-generation DVDs washed through retailer Best Buy this weekend, as Toshiba's first HD DVD player arrived and quickly sold out.

Actual sales figures were not available, as a Best Buy spokeswoman referred calls to individual stores. An informal poll of sales representatives in some NoHo and Midtown New York locations, however, revealed that the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD players sold out soon after they went on sale.

Best Buy representatives also reported that only two HD DVD titles were in stock as of Tuesday: "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Last Samurai." Both films are from Warner Home Video and retail for $24.99. Originally the company also advertised that it would offer "Million Dollar Baby," although the title hasn't yet hit shelves.

Toshiba, the brains behind the HD DVD standard, is going head to head with Sony's Blu-ray technology, both of which are vying to become the next generation of DVD storage formats.

Last month, Toshiba decided to delay the launch of its player to coincide with the release of the movie titles, following an earlier delay that was caused by licensing negotiations regarding the use of the AACS digital-rights-management technology used by both players. Toshiba has already launched its own player in Japan.

Sony and its partners will launch their own Blu-ray titles in May, a month before Samsung releases its first Blu-ray player, the BD-P1000, in June, after a delay for further testing. Sony will release its own Blu-ray player in July as well.

However, many major Hollywood players are hedging their bets on Blu-ray, with Twentieth Century Fox, Buena Vista, MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony Pictures and Lions Gate Entertainment among the studios that have shown support for Sony's technology.

Microsoft and Intel are among the big names showing love for HD DVD. Microsoft says it plans to incorporate support for the format in its' upcoming Vista OS.

At a press conference at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft corporate vice president Peter Moore also said that the company is looking to produce an external had drive for its Xbox 360, which will be able to read HD DVD format discs.

However, the Blu-ray delays have meant that Toshiba and its HD DVD standard enjoy, for now, an uncontested market. Consumers took advantage, snapping up the players. New shipments are expected in this week, though specific dates are unknown, Best Buy representatives said.

A store in Mt. Vernon, NY, which received its' first shipment on Saturday, has one player left.

"We have a shipment coming in Wednesday, so maybe then," said a sales representative at the Mt. Vernon store.

Toshiba's HD-A1 model HD DVD player retails for $499 on the Best Buy Web site, although it is on backorder with an estimated arrival date between May 2 and May 15.

"Million Dollar Baby" is on backorder and is expected to arrive between May 1 and May 15. "Apollo 13," "Doom" and "Serenity" are also slated to become available in high-def in the next few weeks.

For now, the scant supplies of HD hardware at big-box retailers are being viewed with envy by smaller retailers, who have to order their own suppliers through large national resellers. A spokesman for BuyDonlin.com reported that he didn't have stock, and had no idea when he would receive his first shipments.

"No, we don't have them," the spokesman told PC Magazine. "No one has them, to the best of my knowledge. We're waiting to receive our orders from [our distributors]."

For right now, the shortages are a study in supply and demand. In the past, popular items, such as the Sony HVR-A1U digital camcorder, have resulted in nine-month wait times, according to the BuyDonlin.com spokesman.

"This isn't the first time something like this has happened, but it's the way it is," he said.

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