Sony plans to launch a Blu-ray Disc player in the middle of this year that's significantly cheaper than many current models on the market.

The BDP-S300 will cost about $600 — about $400 cheaper than Sony's current BDP-S1 — even though the new player will offer superior capabilities, Sony said late on Monday.

Among these will be the ability to output a 1,080P signal, which is the highest of several levels of video quality that fall under the high-definition banner. Many new televisions support 1,080P, and it's likely that consumers will increasingly look for this function, which until now could only be found on the most expensive players.

It will also up-convert lower quality signals to 1,080P for output over the HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connector and can send out video at 24 frames per second, which is the rate used for films. Doing so is said to provide an image closer to that of film than of video.

Other features include CD playback and compatibility with "Bravia Theater Sync," a system that more closely integrates the control of the player with that of the television by sending signals over the HDMI connection. Also included is multichannel linear PCM digital audio output via HDMI, Dolby Digital Plus decoding, and compatibility with a host of optical disc formats, including the AVCHD format used by some high-definition video camcorders.

The new player will mean more price competition for HD DVD, the format backed by Toshiba Corp that is battling Blu-ray Disc for position as the defacto DVD replacement for high-definition movies.

At present, the least expensive HD DVD player is Toshiba's HD-A2. It costs $499 but doesn't offer 1,080P playback. That's currently available on the $999 HD-XA2 machine, but Toshiba said in January that it would launch a third player, the HD-A20, offering 1,080P in "spring" this year for "around $600."

Both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD were commercially launched in 2006 but so far have received a cool response from consumers. This has been due in part to the high price of players but mostly to the format battle. Many consumers are unwilling to bet hundreds of dollars on a player and discs that might end up obsolete within a few years.

At January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a possible, albeit more expensive, solution was offered by South Korea's LG Electronics. The BH100 player is compatible with both formats and costs $1,199. It's already on sale in the US.