Toshiba began selling the first players using the next-generation HD DVD video format Friday, beating the rival Blu-ray disc format to market in a high-stakes competition to deliver theater-quality movies to living rooms.

Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. said its HD-XA1, priced at about 110,000 yen ($936) is the world's first commercially available HD DVD player.

The product, which has no recording function, is being promised for the United States in April at about $799.

The HD DVD format, also backed by NEC Corp. of Japan (NIPNY), competes against the Blu-ray disc format, supported by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (MC), which makes Panasonic brand products, and Sony Corp (SNE).

Both can deliver dazzling high-definition video and can store much more data than today's DVDs, but are incompatible.

Sony has said it will start selling Blu-ray disc DVD players in the United States in the summer but has not announced a date for Japan sales.

Sony recently postponed until November the sale of its PlayStation 3 video game console, which runs Blu-ray discs and was initially promised for spring. Prices have not been announced.

Matsushita has said its first Blu-ray disc player will be available in the United States in September but has not given a date for when it will sell in Japan. The Osaka-based manufacturer said the price was undecided but will be under $1,500.

HD DVD movies are expected to gradually go on sale starting in April in Japan, including "Finding Neverland," Toshiba said, but the selection is initially even more limited than the titles now being promised for the United States. Films available on next-generation video are expected to grow.

HD DVD is backed by Universal Studios and Warner Bros. as well as Intel Corp. (INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). Blu-ray disc is backed by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Dell Inc. (DELL).

Experts say loyalty to either technology among Hollywood studios is likely to be thin, and studios are expected to come out with content for whichever format proves popular.

Toshiba is promising a cheaper HD DVD player for the U.S. market at $499, but won't offer it in Japan because of the different nature of the markets, the Tokyo-based company said.

Toshiba shares, which have risen in recent months after languishing at 400 yen ($3) levels about a year ago, closed up 1.03 percent at 684 yen ($5.80) shortly after the latest gadgets were shown to Tokyo reporters.