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Lobbyists: HD DVD Outselling Blu-Ray in Europe

HD DVD video players have outsold rival standard Blu-ray Disc players by a three-to-one margin in Europe's main markets so far this year, according to a lobby group.

The European HD DVD Promotional Group claimed it had 74 percent market share in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland for stand-alone players, citing sales figures it commissioned from market research group GfK.

GfK said it has not published research commissioned from the trade group.

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The HD DVD group, led by Toshiba Corp. and backed by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Time Warner Inc. (TWX), declined to give figures for how many players it had shipped to retail outlets in Europe.

The figures were for stand-alone players only and did not include sales of games consoles such as Sony Corp.'s (SNE) PlayStation 3, which contains a Blu-ray player.

The Sony-led Blu-ray lobby group includes Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Dell (DELL). Its discs, which are outselling HD DVD discs, can store more information and special features, but the technology is more expensive.

Toshiba cut prices for its HD-E1 HD DVD player to 399 euros ($549) in Europe and $299 in the United States last month from 499 euros and $399, respectively.

Sony's BDP-S300 Blu-ray player costs $499 in the United States, and its BDP-S1E European version has recently gone on sale, with prices starting at around 900 euros. Other Blu-ray players have been on sale in Europe for longer.

According to its Web site, Blu-ray is an optical disc format developed to enable recording, rewriting and playback of high-definition video. It claims to offer more than five times the storage capacity of traditional DVDs.

HD DVD (high-definition digital versatile disc) format claims to offer six times the picture resolution of normal DVDs and enhanced audio, according to its Web site.

Toshiba's spokesman for the European HD DVD group, Olivier Van Wynendaele, told Reuters that profit margins for its HD DVD players were comparable to those for its DVD players in Europe.

He declined to say whether Toshiba was selling players at a loss in the United States.

A mass market for high-definition video is still some way off. Blu-ray and HD DVD are battling for domination in a war reminiscent of the VHS-Betamax battle of the 1970s and 1980s. That war was won by VHS after about a decade.

Steve Nickerson, a Warner Bros spokesman for the HD DVD group, said still-high prices were partly to blame.

"You can't get to mass-market consumption until you get to mass-market pricing," he told Reuters.

But Nickerson said the high-definition video market was developing faster than the DVD market had. "If we take a pragmatic approach, and understand we're still only selling to innovators, we are ahead of the DVD curve."

Van Wynendaele said surveys had shown 70 percent of consumers would be prepared to buy a high-definition player once prices fall below $200.

Asked when Toshiba would cut prices to that level, he answered: "I can't say if it's likely this year, but it will happen, yes."

Nickerson added: "It took nearly four years for that price point to be achieved in DVD ... anything inside three years would be significantly improved compared to the DVD."