BenQ plans to launch a Blu-ray Disc drive later this year that will be able to write as well as read data, the firm's chairman said today.

"We have a prototype ready and we are going to ship [the product] before the end of the year," BenQ chairman KY Lee said in an interview. The prototype drive was unveiled at a Taipei news conference the same day. It is a standard 'half-height' drive designed for use in desktop computers, and can also write DVDs and CDs.

Blu-ray Disc is one of two new optical-disc formats vying to replace DVD for HD (high-definition) content. Blu-ray Disc and the competing HD-DVD format aren't compatible, so consumers face a choice between the two or waiting until a clear victor emerges. BenQ has put its weight behind Blu-ray Disc, but Lee said its support isn't necessarily exclusive.

"I believe eventually we will have to support both," he said. Lee also expects a multi-drive that can read and write both of the new formats to be available in the future. "Just look at the history of the DVD standard. DVD+, DVD-, DVD-RAM and eventually DVD Multi," he said, referring to drives that support all three formats.

BenQ didn't provide an expected price for the writer drive. Lee said the major cost item is the read/write head and predicted that drive prices are likely to fall as the optical head prices come down.

Initial drives from other manufacturers are expensive. Panasonic will begin selling a Blu-ray Disc drive this month for around ¥100,000 (about £475).

BenQ unveiled a range of new products today ahead of the Computex trade show that kicks off tomorrow. Among the products, and in keeping with the HD theme, is the FP241W computer monitor, which includes an HDMI (HD multimedia interface) connector. HDMI is the highest-quality way to get HD video from Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD players into compatible televisions.