Toshiba plans to launch its first two HD-DVD players in the US in March.

The low-end player, called the HD-A1 will cost $500. A second player, called the HD-XA1, will cost $800, the company said.

The price of the cheapest player is at the low end of expectations. Until now Toshiba had said nothing regarding the price of players beyond a vague "sub-$1,000" range. Prices for players supporting the other format, Blu-ray Disc, are yet to be disclosed but announcements could come this week at CES.

"It's a price point to accelerate market adoption," said Jodi Sally, president of US marketing for Toshiba's digital audio-visual products.

Backwards compatible

Both players will output a 720p and 1,080i (720 line progressive scanning and 1,080 lines interlaced scanning) high-definition signal via HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) to a compatible high-definition television. Both products can also play existing DVDs and will up-convert a standard-definition picture from DVD to high definition, which is said to make it clearer.

The machines also support a number of audio formats, including: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and DTS HD. The more expensive HD-XA1 player has four digital signal processors, said Toshiba.

To promote the HD-DVD players and format, which is backed by a smaller number of major companies than the competing Blu-ray Disc format, Toshiba is planning a series of promotions across the US, it said.

Toshiba had hoped to beat Blu-ray backers to the punch by making these players available in 2005, but a delay in the development of the copy-protection system standard for the players caused the launch to be pushed back.