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The American subsidiary of Toshiba Corp. announced Wednesday it would ship its first two HD DVD players commercially in March, 2006, months after the original expectations. The new products will ship for $499 and $799 and will require users to have an HDTV set featuring new HDMI input.

The first models that Toshiba will offer – HD-XA1 and HD-A1 – are capable of HD DVD, DVD and CD playback and hardware decoding of H.264 (MPEG4 AVC), VC-1 (a superset of Microsoft’s WMV9) and MPEG2 (standard DVD) streams using a chip from Broadcom. Additionally, the players feature four digital sound processors to process audio in Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (2 channel), DTS and DTS-HD formats. The players can output video in 720p (1280x720) and 1080i (1920x1080) resolutions using HDMI interconnection and multi-channel audio using HDMI or S/PDIF connectors.

Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD content will be converted to a standard bitstream format that is compatible with any processor equipped with decoders of the respective formats and output through S/PDIF and HDMI. Additionally, all the audio formats for either DVD or HD DVD will be decoded to PCM and output via HDMI in either stereo or multi-channel.

The construction of the HD-XA1, in addition to performance improvements, features a motorized door which conceals the disc drawer, function buttons and two front USB ports, for convenient connection of gaming controllers. The HD-XA1 also includes three different user selectable interfaces to further enhance customization and a backlit remote control that is conveniently motion activated. Furthermore, the model employs double chassis construction to add stability and strength against vibrations and the HD-XA1 adds insulated stabilizing feet to provide a steadfast foundation for the device.

Availability of HD DVD players in the U.S. will allow users not only to watch their movies in higher resolution, but also to add certain amount of interactivity to movie playback.

Both players will be available in March this year for estimated retail price of $499 and $799 for the HD-A1 and HD-XA1 respectively. Currently it is unknown which movies will be available in HD DVD format by that time.

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