The first players supporting the Blu-ray Disc format appear likely to lag those for the competing HD-DVD format by at least three months.

Toshiba which backs the HD-DVD format told CES attendees at a news conference that it will launch two players in the US in March. Sanyo will launch a player in the latter half of this year.

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 the "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 and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic) estimated it would launch a player in the middle of this year.

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. It will cost $1,800 .

More details of Blu-ray Disc launch plans could come Thursday night when the Blu-ray Disc Association holds a news conference.

With most companies indicating a launch in the latter half of the year, the role that Sony Computer Entertainment's (SCEI) PlayStation 3 could play in popularising the format is potentially vital. The PlayStation 3 will contain a Blu-ray Disc drive.

SCEI confirmed Wednesday that it plans to launch the PlayStation 3 in the "spring" of this year. That means the PlayStation 3, which offers high-definition video playback, could come out before players from major consumer electronics vendors.