The first players supporting the high-definition Blu-ray Disc format appear likely to lag behind those for the competing HD-DVD format by at least three months, according to announcements and predictions made in Las Vegas yesterday at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Toshiba, which backs the HD-DVD format, said at a news conference that it will launch two players in the US in March, priced at $500 (about £290) and $800 (£465). Sanyo is planning to launch a player in the latter half of this year, although that will be acquired from another company as an OEM product, Sanyo representatives said on Wednesday.

On the Blu-ray Disc side the format's strongest supporter, Sony, unveiled its latest prototypes and said it plans to launch a player in North America in early summer this year, but it stopped short of providing a price estimate. Sharp said it will wait until at least the middle of the year to launch a player, while Matsushita estimated it would launch a player in the middle of this year. Philips said it will launch a player in the second half of this year. None of the companies would talk about pricing.

One Blu-ray Disc backer that did disclose pricing was Pioneer. It will launch a player under its Pioneer Elite brand in the US in June this year, at a price of $1,800 (£1,040).

More details of Blu-ray Disc launch plans could come tonight when the Blu-ray Disc Association is scheduled to hold a news conference.

With most companies indicating a launch in the latter half of the year, the role that Sony's PlayStation 3 could play in popularising the format becomes more interesting. The PS3 will contain a Blu-ray Disc drive.

Sony confirmed on Wednesday that it plans to launch the PS3 in the spring of this year. That means the PS3, which offers high-definition video playback, could come out before players from major consumer electronics vendors. As such, the industry is waiting with interest to find out the launch date and price for the games console.

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